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Saved by shipwreck, The Antikythera Youth

Ancient Greek bronze sculptures, like the Antikythera Youth, reveal the Greeks' deep understanding of human anatomy and movement. Found in shipwrecks, these sculptures show the late Classical Greek period's admiration for the male body. The Antikythera Youth, possibly representing Paris, is a stunning example of this artistry. The Antikythera Youth, 340-330 B.C.E., bronze, 1.96 m high (National Archaeological Museum, Athens), an ARCHES video speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

(swing piano music) - [Male Narrator] Almost everything we know about ancient Greek sculpture comes from later Roman copies in marble. But the thing is, those marble copies were made from Greek bronze originals. The problem is, we don't have those bronzes because bronze was expensive, and it could be reused, it could be melted down into weapons, into other sculptures, and it most often was. - [Female Narrator] But we're looking at one ancient Greek bronze that survives, luckily, because of a shipwreck. - [Male Narrator] Now, it was a very unlucky ship, because it was found at the bottom of about 50 meters of ocean water, but it was very lucky for us because from it was retrieved one of the most important original bronze sculptures from ancient Greece. - [Female Narrator] Many of the ancient Greek bronzes that survive, survive thanks to shipwrecks. - [Male Narrator] This is called the Antikythera Youth because it was found off the coast of Antikythera, and was recovered almost completely intact, it's had some restoration. - [Female Narrator] And it dates to about 340, 330 BCE, so this is right at the end of the period we would call the late Classical, and right at the cusp of the period we call the Hellenistic, which begins with the death of Alexander the Great. - [Male Narrator] We can clearly see this as a late Classical sculpture. All of the Greek understanding of human anatomy is evident. We can see the musculature, the bone structure, we see the figure standing in a beautiful example of contrapposto. - [Female Narrator] We see a kind of blockiness in the torso that might remind us of Polykleitos' Doryphoros from the mid-5th century BCE. - [Male Narrator] That is from the early Classical period. But we also see a kind of lengthening of the extended right arm and of the free leg on the right side, which reminds us of the way in which the 4th century and the late Classical artists were willing to distort the body in order to express a kind of nobility or a kind of motion. - [Female Narrator] And that elongation we see in Lysippos' Apoxyomenos. And we also might notice that the head looks a little small for the body, which is also something we see in the work of Lysippos. There are also aspects of this that have reminded art historians of the works of the other great 4th century sculptor, Praxiteles. - [Male Narrator] It shows the kind of flexibility that late Classical sculptors had, that they could draw on all of this different source material. This is just such an extraordinary image, not only because the bronze has survived, but even the inset eyes made with glass paste. - [Female Narrator] We can imagine the bronze gleaming, and that kind of gold color that bronze has. The eyes being so lifelike, and the way the figure strides into our space and lifts up his arm, it's incredibly dramatic. - [Male Narrator] It's no wonder the Romans wanted it. But the question is, who is this? - [Female Narrator] Well, his hand is up, and it seems to be holding something that was spherical, and the figure seems to be offering it to somebody. - [Male Narrator] And if that's true, that spherical object might have been an apple, which means this would have been Paris. - [Female Narrator] Right, Paris was the unfortunate shepherd who was given the job of deciding which of three goddesses was most beautiful. - [Male Narrator] The story begins like this. At the marriage of Peleus and Thetis, one goddess was not invited because she always caused trouble. This, of course, was the goddess of discord, and she lived up to her name by throwing an apple at the feet of the goddesses that was inscribed with the words "I belong to the most beautiful". - [Female Narrator] Now, who would get to have that apple? - [Male Narrator] Well, they couldn't decide amongst themselves, needless to say. - [Female Narrator] Naturally. - [Male Narrator] And so they choose this unfortunate shepherd, Paris. And he's visited by Aphrodite, who promises a reward if she's chosen, and that reward is Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world. Unfortunately, Helen of Troy was already spoken for. - [Female Narrator] But he does choose what Aphrodite offers, and Helen is abducted, and thus begins the Trojan War. - [Male Narrator] Now, of course, we have no idea if this is really Paris or not, but what we do have is an exceptional example of the regard that the late Classical Greek period had for the male body. Here we see this heroic figure, with all this incredible articulation of the abdomen, these smooth transitions of one part of the body to the next. It is a miracle of workmanship. - [Female Narrator] Look at how his left arm comes behind him as the right arm comes forward, his torso shifts to his left, even as he moves toward his right. It's a very complex rendering of the human body in motion. - [Male Narrator] It's a celebration of this incredible mechanism that is the human body, and of our intellectual ability to understand how that body functions. So in the 4th century, the Greeks understand the human body, they understand how to sculpt, they understand how to cast in large scale bronze, they have all of these opportunities before them, then they create magnificent sculpture. (swing piano music)