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Video transcript

we're in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens and we're looking at a great bronze sculpture of a striding God you didn't even have to tell me it was a God he's so powerful he looks so in control we look at him and we know that this is a God who controls the fates of human beings we're pretty sure he's either Poseidon or Zeus now Poseidon is the god of the sea and his brother Zeus is the God who rules all of the Olympian gods from Mount Olympus and the way that we would be able to determine which it was is dependent on what he was holding if he was holding a trident he would be Poseidon and if he was holding a thunderbolt he would be Zeus now sadly his attribute is lost most art historians tend to think it's Zeus a Thunderbolt was short and it would not have obscured the face the way that a trident would have which was much longer in addition if you look at the gap in his hand it's a wide grasp much wider than it would be if it was the narrow handle of a trident a Thunderbolt was Zeus his weapon of choice he's referred to as the hurler of Thunderbolts now this is bronze it's important to talk about what this would have looked like in 460 BCE when it was created it would have gleamed it would have shined and light it's so rare that we have an original Greek bronze the only reason we have this one is that it was recovered from an ancient shipwreck what happens is the bronze doesn't rust unless there is air and water that alternate so under water it gets encrusted with lots of barnacles and sea creatures but it actually can be quite well preserved as is the case here so that gleaming shining radiant effect goes with the idea of this being Zeus especially since we think that the eyebrows perhaps the beard and certainly the Thunderbolt would have been inlaid with silver and so you would have had that gleaming color of the bronze against those brilliant flashes of silver his eyes would have been inlaid with glass and so you have this amazing figure not only gleaming and but also striding toward us depending on where we stand of course well look at the way he occupies space we don't want to stand in front of him we would be the victim of that Thunderbolt his focus is extraordinary we have that incredible extension that is more than six feet of one hand to the other and he's steadying himself but also aiming with that hand before him he's shifting as you would need to do in order to hurl something like a thunderbolt although it's hard to imagine hurling a thunderbolt well that's right he's pushing off with his right leg and his left leg the toes are up as if that foot is readying itself to bear the weight of the body as he steps forward now if you think back just a hundred years to the archaic period Greek sculptors were making sculptures out of marble and they were very contained that is the limbs were close to the body we see during this early Classical period sometimes known as the severe style an interest in figures that are more open where you have limbs that are apart figures that move into the space of the viewer and this is possible because of the use of bronze we don't need the struts we don't need the bridges that are required in a marble sculpture here the tensile strength of the bronze is great enough so that those arms can be out and give that kind of extraordinary vitality to this figure and invite us to walk around it there are really three distinct views of this sculpture the front and the back make the figure look very flat very schematic very silhouetted we see the full body we see both legs the torso it's almost like a drawing the arms stretched out and the arms especially the left arm are a little longer than they would be naturally but when we move to the side that sense of flatness changes I mean get a figure that seems to occupy space in all directions we see the depth of the torso we can see a little bit of a twist in the hips and the upper body and so we see this figure breaking out for that choros tradition dramatically and so what seems like silhouette actually exists in depth and look for instance at the angle of the hole in the right hand we can see that the thunderbolt or the Trident was not held parallel with a hand but would have swung around because it's it a little bit of an angle the remarkable thing to me is that he looks powerful he looks superhuman but still you men in his nudity the Greeks understanding the male human body has this receptacle for all of its ideals Plato talked about the idea that the gods were the perfect manifestation and that we were a kind of inferior reflection of that perfection and so here we see the Greek setting up this idealized human male body and we are just a reflection of that