Hercules on the edge
Some thoughts about the structure immediately above, thoughts that I’ve needed to have, then park while I crack on with other, more urgent things.
You are looking at the Tropaeum Alpium, Trophy of the Alps, or Tropaeum Augusti, Trophy of Augustus, in La Turbie (which takes its name from it), a town on a rise above Monaco in the South of France. However we choose to call it, this monument is certainly concerned with both the Alps and the emperor Augustus. What interests me about it, though, is that it is also concerned, albeit more obliquely, with the hero Hercules, on whom one day I shall assuredly write A BOOK.
Unless I don’t.
The first thing to appreciate about the Tropaeum Alpium is that, while it was dedicated by the Senate and People of Rome in 7/6BC, what you you see in La Turbie today is really a confection dating back just a century. The Middle Ages were not kind to the monument (one story, if anyone reads Provençal, tells how St Honoratus miraculously destroyed it, the fortress of a giant named Apollo, but the reality wasn’t much less dramatic). Shortly before the First World War, and then again from 1929 to 1934, two architects, Jean Camille and Jules Formigé, father and son, undertook a very creative reconstruction, and the result is a landmark which probably tells us as much about French culture in the early decades of the Twentieth Century as it does about Augustus.
There is nevertheless a lot we know about the Trophy, not least the inscription it bore, which was recorded by Pliny the Elder in his Natural History (3.136-7) and explained that the monument marked the conquest of the Alps by the emperor Augustus a mari supero ad inferum, from the higher to the lower sea, i.e. from the Adriatic to the Tyrrhenian Sea. All the Alpine tribes conquered by Augustus and his lieutenants were listed, the message being that the Alpine borderlands of Italy were now thoroughly pacified.
We’ll come back to Pliny, because his record of the Tropaeum is interestingly located within his own text. But what I’m most concerned with is the meaningful association established by Sophie Binninger (all citations are at the bottom) between this monument celebrating Augustus on the heights above Monaco and the hero/god Hercules — who was so important to Monaco that he seems to have given his name to the place.
We know that the port of Monaco, and apparently the heights above it, were perceived to have a special connection to Hercules. Strabo, for instance, informs us that “the harbour of Monoikos is a mooring-place for only a few, small ships, with a temple of Herakles ‘Monoikos’, as he is known” (4.6.3), while other sources give emphasis to the neighbouring heights. If there was a specific cult site, at any rate, we don’t know where it was. But the connection was established enough for the Hercules worshipped here, under that moody epithet Monoikos (“solitary; who lives alone”), to give the location a name today very familiar to us.
It is on this basis that Binninger makes the case, unanswerable it seems to me, that the placement of the monument honouring Augustus is designed to imply an assimilation with Hercules, and she suggests that treating Augustus as a Herculean figure suggests military prowess, divinity present or future, and a civilizing power closely related to the establishment of roads and communication. Ammianus Marcellinus (15.10.9) describes Hercules as the builder of the first road along the coast en route to dealing with the three-bodied giant Geryon, and adds that he also “consecrated the harbour and citadel of Monoecus to his own everlasting memory”. (The context for Hercules’ presence in the western Mediterranean, whether in Rome, Tangier or Monaco, is generally his mission to kill Geryon in Spain and drive Geryon’s superlative herd of cattle back to Greece.) Augustus’ Tropaeum was coordinated with the Via Julia Augusta, the road from Italy to Gaul recently constructed or renovated by Augustus which it overlooked.
But I think we can push the Herculean associations of the Tropaeum Alpium a bit further, and particularly that last idea of communication. Hercules was all about pathways and access, certainly, but by extension he promoted the meeting and mingling of peoples. Within Italy Hercules’ close association with the cattle trade, and the drove roads by which cattle were herded around the peninsula, had made him the agent of intermingling and unification described by Dionysius, who imagines a rationalised Hercules as the greatest general of his day, leading a great army with which, among other things, “he mingled barbarians with Greeks, and inhabitants of the inland with dwellers on the sea coast, groups which hitherto had been distrustful and unsocial in their dealings with each other” (Rom. Ant. 1.41.1).
Meanwhile, the story was told around the Mediterranean and beyond of peoples descended from Hercules and a local woman: see here on Rome, Herodotus 4.9-10 on the Scythians, and Plutarch, Sertorius 9.3-5 on the people of Tangier. This recurrent myth clearly encoded the establishment of reciprocal relations between Greek colonisers and native peoples, albeit by implication on Greek terms. In ancient France we find stories, collected by Jane Lightfoot in her edition of Parthenius, that make Hercules the ancestor of the Celts. As Parthenius tells it, when Hercules was driving the cattle of Geryon back to Argos, he came to the court of king Bretannos in the country of the Celts. The inevitable liaison with Bretannos’ daughter Keltine resulted in the birth of Keltos, ancestor of the Celts.
Hercules’ capacity to bring peoples together is one of his most remarkable characteristics, and at first sight hard to square with this club-wielding epitome of male violence. It no doubt has a lot to do with the ubiquity of muscular civilising gods across peoples. The Greeks encountered the Carthaginian Melqart and saw Heracles, and vice versa. Another illustration is the worship of Hercules Magusanus by the Batavians of what is now the Netherlands, as explained by Nico Roymans: the syncretism of a local and a Roman god, Magusanus and Hercules, facilitating the Batavians’ assimilation within the Roman Empire, resulting inter alia in one more Lysippan Hercules to join all the others.
Another illustration again is Virgil’s Aeneid, where Hercules the communis deus, “god who is common to all” (8.275), appears on both sides of the conflict between Aeneas’ forces and Turnus’ forces, as comrade or ancestor, in the second half of the poem, and seems to promise a unity in Italy when all the fighting’s done. In Virgil the tension between that peaceful outcome and the violence Hercules displays is quite deliberately drawn out, I think. (I investigated some of these Herculean associations as they were exploited by Horace in the article cited at the bottom.)
Well, if the monument to Augustus at La Turbie does indeed by its position provoke thoughts of Hercules, that position (which was clearly chosen very, very carefully) answers in various suggestive ways to these aspects of the hero. Monaco, as Binninger explains, can be seen as the end of the Alps, illustrating the claim of the inscription that the mountains had been pacified from sea to sea. But we are also here on a frontier, Hercules’ natural space: Binninger cites a medieval gloss on the Antonine Itinerary which remarks of this location usque hic Italia, hinc Gallia, “Thus far Italy; henceforth Gaul”. At Monaco Hercules presided over the meeting of Italians and Gauls as well as Greeks and Celts.
But I think the most interesting implication of all arises from the text of Pliny the Elder which preserves the inscription that graced the Trophy, and indeed allowed the structure at La Turbie to be identified as the Tropaeum Alpium. Binninger again points out that Pliny’s reference to the Tropaeum comes at the end of a long account of Italy (3.38-138), just before his resounding conclusion, “This is Italy, sacred to the gods, these its races, these its people’s towns…” Pliny’s account is structured by Augustus’ organisation of Rome and Italy into regiones, a reform which may have been introduced around the time of the Trophy’s dedication. In other words, Pliny’s account of Italy, and its climax with the Tropaeum Alpium, may well follow an Augustan logic. Binninger talks of the idea in Pliny that the Alps (and the Trophy) “round off” Italy, and again I am put in mind of Hercules.
In the Aeneid, or at least in my reading of the poem, Hercules represents a kind of summation of Italy. All in Italy worship him, and in him, symbolically, is found unity between Italians, even as they fight each other. The paradox, which is also present to some degree at La Turbie, is that Hercules/Augustus stands for violent conquest, and yet also for equality and collaboration. Just maybe, then, there is an Augustan pattern of thought here, centred upon the mythical figure of Hercules and shared between Virgil’s epic and this monument on the heights above Monaco.
* * *
S. Binninger, “Le Tropaeum Alpium et l’Héraclès Monoikos. Mémoire et célébration de la victoire dans la propagande augustéenne à la Turbie”, in M. Navarro Caballero and J.-M. Roddaz (eds.), La Transmission de l’idéologie impériale dans les provinces de l’Occident romain (Pessac, 2006), 179-203;
—Le trophée d’Auguste à La Turbie (Paris, 2009);
E. Bispham, “The Regiones of Italy: between Republic and Principate”, in M. Aberson, M.C. Biella, M. Di Fazio & M. Wullschleger (eds.), Nos sumus Romani qui fuimus ante… Memory of ancient Italy (Bern, 2020), 23-51;
H. Cornwell, “The King Who Would Be Prefect: Authority and Identity in the Cottian Alps”, Journal of Roman Studies 105 (2015), 41-72;
J. Lightfoot, Parthenius of Nicaea: the Extant Works, Edited with Introduction and Commentary (Oxford, 1999);
I. Malkin, Myth and Territory in the Spartan Mediterranean (Cambridge, 1994);
Ll. Morgan, “A Yoke Connecting Baskets: Odes 3.14, Hercules, and Italian Unity”, Classical Quarterly 55 (2005), 190-203;
N. Roymans, Ethnic Identity and Imperial Power: the Batavians in the Early Roman Empire (Amsterdam, 2004), 235-50.
A highlight of a challenging term has been teaching, with Barney Taylor, a new course on late first/early second-century Roman literature–Martial and Statius so far, with Pliny the Younger, Tacitus and Juvenal to come next term. One text this brought me back to is the fourth book of Statius’ “occasional” (i.e. lighter, officially non-epic) poetry, Silvae. I’ve a personal soft spot for the Silvae, and Silvae 4 especially, because it was while, in 1997 in Dublin, I was listening to a talk on Silvae 4.3, Statius’ celebration of the new Via Domitiana that the emperor had built, a quick road connection to Naples, that I had an idea from which, a decade later, this book finally emerged. The idea of Musa Pedestris was to encourage readers of Roman poetry to pay more attention to the metrical form that it adopted, which (I argued) potentially contributed as much meaning to its poetry as any other element of the composition. The various metrical forms that Roman poetry adopted had their own independent character, established by usage (and theory about usage) over time, and this could shape in interesting ways the poetry they carried.
Well, in a fit of nostalgia, here’s a blog that illustrates the thesis, or tries to, that if you ignore the metre of a Roman poem, you potentially miss something fundamental. The subject is three interrelated poems about a statue of Hercules, by Statius (Silvae 4.6) and Martial (9.43 and 44), but first a couple of general rules about metrical character or ethos by way of introduction; with a warning that what I’m ultimately going to argue here is that the poets want us to see their manipulation of metrical structures as in some sense equivalent to the sculpting of a bronze statuette.
Statius’ poem is in a metre that we call the dactylic hexameter, and which the ancients as often referred to as the “heroic verse”. This was by convention the most elevated poetic form, a metre fit to tell the tales of heroic figures of epic poetry like Achilles or Aeneas. (The notion that combinations of long and short syllables could have a perceived character might seem odd, but here and here are striking illustrations of how well-established it was; and here a less striking one.) In any case the hexameter is Statius’ favourite metre in the Silvae, and among other things allows this supposedly occasional poetry to rise at times to the level of epic. Another metre, meanwhile, the hendecasyllable, had been much used by Catullus, and is both Statius’ choice for a number of the Silvae and the second-most common metre in Martial’s epigrams. When used by both Martial and Statius it can evoke a Catullan atmosphere (it lends a sense of Catullan spontaneity, freedom and youthful energy to Domitian’s new road in Silvae 4.3, for instance), but it was also considered a kind of polar opposite of the grand hexameter, a vehicle for trivialities, not heroes. The choice of metre for 4.3, essentially a panegyric of the emperor, was thus also arrestingly unexpected. Elsewhere the hendecasyllable is used by Statius for festive or Saturnalian poems.
The three poems I’m concerned with here all address a single topic, a miniature statue of Hercules (less than Roman foot high, according to Statius, 4.6.39) that served as a table ornament and was owned by a man with the excellent name Novius Vindex. The poems are in hexameters (Statius, Silvae 4.6), hendecasyllables (Martial 9.44), and in the case of Martial 9.43 elegiac couplets. A final word on that last metrical system. The elegiac couplet combines a hexameter line with a shorter dactylic length known as a pentameter, and one consequence is that it can carry with it a sense of being closely related to the heroic hexameter, since that provides its first line, yet also inferior, since a pentameter, a shorter length, always follows the hexameter. But note that this kinship with the hexameter securely establishes elegiacs as higher in the metrical pecking order than hendecasyllables.
Here is one example from elsewhere in the Silvae of the kind of subtle play with metrical associations that these poets are capable of.
Silvae 1.2 is an epithalamion, a marriage poem, for L. Arruntius Stella, a patron of poets such as Statius and Martial and a poet in his own right, the author of love elegies in the tradition of Propertius, Tibullus and Ovid. These had their trademark metre, the elegiac couplet that we’ve mentioned, a combination of a dactylic hexameter and pentameter often said to fall short of the epic hexameter by one foot (pente < hex). Statius’ poem (playfully) presents Stella’s marriage to his new bride Violentilla as an abandonment of his elegiac life of dissolute love (his formerly solutus amor must now obey the laws of marriage, 28-9), and the metre of Statius’ own poem, hexameter, is made to express in its own right Stella’s new status as a respectable married man. Elegy herself, embodiment of the metrical form of elegiac poetry, and of the kind of poetry for which that metre was the vehicle, attends their wedding. In Ovid’s love elegies Elegy had been portrayed as limping (deficient in one foot, geddit?) and all the more attractive for it (Amores 3.1.7-10). Statius’ Silvae have survived by a whisker, and the text is often difficult to reconstruct. But at Silvae 1.2.7-10 Elegy tries to slip herself unnoticed among the nine Muses who are hymning the happy couple, and she does something with her foot (the critical word is unclear, but it may suggest a built-up shoe) to conceal her tell-tale elegiac limp. It’s a brilliant conceit, even if we can’t quite see exactly how it works: if Elegy loses her limp, we have the heroic hexameter, and the hexameter here means marital respectability.
But back to Novius Vindex’s statue of Hercules. It was a representation of the the hero is a relaxed state that had both miniature and full-size (and larger than full-size) versions in antiquity (on this ambiguously titled “Hercules Epitrapezios” see M. Beard and J. Henderson, Classical Art from Greece to Rome, 197-8). The originals, big and small, of this image were attributed to Lysippus (on whose remarkable influence as a sculptor of Heracles see here), and numerous copies survive to this day. But Vindex’s statue is claimed by the poets to be an original, the work of Lysippus’ own hand, and furthermore to boast an illustrious history of ownership, having passed from Alexander to Hannibal and on to the Roman dictator L. Sulla. This seems unlikely, although all three of these men did display particular respect for Heracles/Melqart/Hercules, it is fair to say.
A key theme in the poems on Vindex’s statue is the tension inherent in a statue of a great hero (and a statue that had allegedly belonged to some of the most famous figures in history) which is diminutive in size and function, and in the possession of a private citizen. Statius develops this play between big and small, heroic and domestic, public and private at some length, but Martial does similar things in his first epigram (9.43), which can illustrate the theme:
Hic qui dura sedens porrecto saxa leone
mitigat, exiguo magnus in aere deus,
quaeque tulit spectat resupino sidera uultu,
cuius laeua calet robore, dextra mero:
non est fama recens nec nostri gloria caeli; 5
nobile Lysippi munus opusque uides.
hoc habuit numen Pellaei mensa tyranni,
qui cito perdomito uictor in orbe iacet;
hunc puer ad Libycas iurauerat Hannibal aras;
iusserat hic Sullam ponere regna trucem. 10
offensus uariae tumidis terroribus aulae
priuatos gaudet nunc habitare lares,
utque fuit quondam placidi conuiua Molorchi,
sic uoluit docti Vindicis esse deus.
“This one that sits and softens the hard rocks with outspread/ lionskin, a mighty god in a miniscule bronze,/ and gazes at the stars he once bore with upturned face,/ whose left hand is busy with a club, his right with wine–/ he is no recent object of fame nor the glory of a Roman chisel;/ it is the noble work and gift of Lysippus that you see./ This deity the table of the tyrant of Pella possessed,/ who lies at rest a victor in a world he swiftly subdued;/ by him the young Hannibal swore an oath at a Libyan altar;/ it was he that bade pitiless Sulla lay down his kingship./ Discomfited by the inflamed terrors of diverse courts,/ he rejoices now to dwell in a private house,/ and as once he dined with peaceful Molorchus,/ so the god wished to be the guest of learned Vindex.”
Martial wrote two poems on the same subject, as mentioned. In other words Vindex’s statue provokes in Martial a metrical game he occasionally plays, presenting alternative accounts of a circumstance in different metres, elegiacs and hendecasyllables, the metres seemingly shaping each treatment according to their traditional character. The phenomenon is investigated by Patricia Watson, “Contextualising Martial’s metres”, in R.R. Nauta, H.-J. Van Dam & J.J.L. Smolenaars (eds.), Flavian Poetry (2006), 285-98.
Martial 9.44’s approach to the subject, in hendecasyllables, is strikingly different from his preceding poem. Whereas the elegiacs we have just seen are overtly poetic and formal in expression, 9.44 is colloquial, realistic, and humorous:
Alciden modo Vindicis rogabam
esset cuius opus laborque felix.
risit, nam solet hoc, leuique nutu
‘Graece numquid’ ait ‘poeta nescis?
inscripta est basis indicatque nomen.’ 5
Lysippum lego, Phidiae putavi.
“I recently asked Vindex’s Hercules/ whose work and happy creation he was./ He laughed, as is his way, and with a light nod/ “Poet”, he said, “don’t you know Greek?/ My base is inscribed and shows the name.” I read Lysippus. I thought it was Phidias’s.”
This is a controversial poem. Change the text of the first line a bit and it’s Vindex being questioned, not the god himself; and the point of the last line is elusive, too. But what matters for my purposes is the metrical self-awareness that Martial sees fit to flaunt in his book of epigrams, largely for its own sake. I’d merely make a provisional further point at this stage that Martial’s poetic reception of Vindex’s bijou statue of Hercules shares with that statue a mastery of high and low, the capacity to capture it in the elevated, aestheticised terms of dactylic elegy, and also in the colloquial mode of the hendecasyllable.
Statius also seems determined to create a poetic artefact that shares characteristics with the statue it celebrates, and again his approach has a metrical dimension, I think.
Silvae 4.6 addresses Vindex’s statue in terms so close to Martial’s as to make us suspect the guiding hand of Vindex in each–intriguingly, the two leading Flavian poets never explicitly acknowledge each other’s existence. Again, a key conceit in Statius’ poem is the grandeur of the figure of Hercules paradoxically captured in a tiny figure, finesque inclusa per artos/ maiestas (35-6), “small to the sight, huge in impression” (37-8, paruusque uideri/ sentirique ingens). And like Martial again, Statius’ celebration of this diminutive masterpiece ranges between poetic styles. In this case Silvae 4.6 traverses the full spectrum of poetic registers from satire to epic before settling in an intermediary position that the “occasional” Silvae find congenial.
Let me explain what I mean, and what the implications for metre are. Verse satire was a genre pursued by Horace, Persius and Juvenal (and C. Lucilius before them) and was considered Rome’s only poetic innovation–everything else they borrowed from the Greeks. Satire was a genre of criticism, and more generally a poetry that concerned itself with the lowest, meanest aspects of human life. Satire is never entirely convinced that it’s really poetry at all, so unedifying is its content. (It’s a melancholy fact that the one genre of poetry Romans could call their own isn’t certain it is poetry.) A development that crystallized satire’s character was C. Lucilius’ decision to adopt the dactylic hexameter as the signature metre of this anti-genre–an outrageous choice, since it matched the most elevated metre to the tawdry topics of satire. This reinforced satire’s status as a response, or antidote, to the artificiality of epic poetry. Every subsequent satirical hexameter, one might say, advertised the mismatch of content and vehicle.
Statius in 4.6 frames his encounter with Vindex as a dinner to which Vindex has invited him, and he starts his poem with extensive reminiscence of Horace’s Satires, when he insists the joy of the dinner was not a matter of luxurious food, for instance (Kathy Coleman’s commentary to Silvae 4 cites parallels in Horace), but most obviously at the very start, where Statius wandering idly in Rome, described in a conversational tone, strongly evokes Horace doing the same in Satire 1.9 (Statius’ first line alludes to the first and last line of Horace’s poem). But the dinner-by-invitation, cena, and the sermo, “conversation”, that was conventionally the essence of a good cena (the quality of the sermo chez Vindex is singled out by Statius), were the bread and butter (so to speak) of satirical poetry.
Soon enough, though, Statius’ poem rises to a higher register, as Amphitryoniades enters the poem, “Hercules son of Amphitryon” (33), a grandiose epic patronymic filling half the line, and especially when Statius starts enumerating his eminent previous owners. Here is Hannibal’s spectacular introduction by way of illustration (75-8):
Mox Nasamoniaco decus admirabile regi
possessum; fortique deo libauit honores
semper atrox dextra periuroque ense superbus
“Presently the marvellous treasure came to belong to the Nasamonian king: the valiant god he, Hannibal, honoured by libation, ever savage with his right hand and arrogant with treacherous sword.”
Statius’ poem will ultimately find its way to an accommodation of these divergent registers, the god Hercules still epically mighty, but relaxed and at peace (and pint-sized, of course) in Vindex’s private home, and this compromise typifies the intermediary poetics to which the Silvae aspire. The interplay of large and small, high and low, in Statius’ poem and Martial’s epigrams has been well investigated by Charles McNelis, “Ut sculptura poesis: Statius, Martial, and the Hercules Epitrapezios of Novius Vindex,” AJPh 129 (2008), 255-76, with an emphasis on Callimachus as a model (Molorchus in particular points in his direction), and McNelis draws out the emulative impulse of Martial’s and Statius’s response to the statue–poetic achievements comparable in artistic dexterity to the statuette itself are the only adequate way to celebrate it.
All I’d like to add is a proper recognition of the role of satire in Statius’ poem, and an observation about metre that links both poets. Martial and Statius react to Vindex’s statue with poetry that seeks to match the quality of a valuable artefact, and that matches it in one particular respect: both poets advertise a control of the high and the low parallel to that of the sculptor Lysippus, a mastery of the spectrum of registers from the mundane to the magnificent. In Martial’s case this is conveyed by two poems in contrasting metres and concomitant styles; but Statius also exploits the scope available to him within the Roman history of a single metre, the dactylic hexameter, shifting between the hexametrical poles of satire and epic with as much deftness as Martial flips from elegiacs to hendecasyllables.
When I was writing about metre many years ago I came to feel that the Romans regarded the metrical forms of their poetry as closely akin to physical structures. Michael Roberts considers Statius a harbinger of the style of late-antique Latin poetry, and in The Jeweled Style (1989), p.21 has this to say of the latter:
“Words are viewed as possessing a physical presence of their own, distinct from any considerations of sense or syntax. They may be moved like building blocks or pieces in a puzzle to create ever new formal constructs. It is this sense of the physical existence of words and of meter as their structural matrix that underlies the ingenious verbal patterns of Optatianus Porfyrius and the Technopaegnion of Ausonius.”
Not the least important respect in which Statius and Martial craft an adequate response to Lysippus’ miniature god, creating poetic artefacts comparable to an exquisite sculpture, is in their absolute mastery of the poetic structures we call metres.
A particularly excellent initiative from the outstanding Gandhara Connections project based in Oxford, directed by my old friend Peter Stewart, is a series of short, stimulating introductions to Gandharan topics written by Project Consultant Dr Wannaporn Kay Rienjang. The latest of these, on the monastery site of Jamalgarhi, one of the most celebrated archaeological sites in the Peshawar valley, is as highly recommended as its predecessors. For the purposes of this blog, though, it contains the image at the top, an image that set me thinking.
It is E. C. Bayley’s drawing of one of a number of Buddhist sculptures provided to him by two British officers, Lieutenant Stokes and Lieutenant Lumsden, of the Horse Artillery and the Guide Corps respectively, who had removed them from Jamalgarhi. My immediate thought when I saw it was that the Buddha and the figure with his back turned to the Buddha’s immediate left bore a remarkable similarity to another relief I was familiar with from Jamalgarhi. This relief, now in the Indian Museum in Kolkata (no. G-34), is best illustrated by James Craddock’s photograph from 1880 on the British Library site of pieces found in later, more official excavations of the monastery:
The carving in the relief at the centre of this image is especially fine. But what I had been reminded of within this composition was the central figure of the Buddha and the figure to his left, here with Bayley’s equivalents for comparison:
The two compositions, from the realisation of the Buddha and his orientation to the striking presentation of the accompanying figure, back turned, left leg bent, are very similar indeed, and Peter and Kay tell me that such replication in a monastery’s decorative scheme is quite unusual.
Now, my personal interest here is the figure with his back turned to the Buddha’s left, and I’ll come to him presently. Before I do, though, a little bit more on these images as we have them, or indeed don’t have them. Bayley’s sketches of the sculptures that he had received are in fact all that we do now have, because the sculptures picked up by Stokes and Lumsden subsequently travelled to London for exhibition, and were on display in the Crystal Palace at Sydenham when fire broke out at the end of December 1866, destroying (according to the Illustrated London News January 5, 1867, p. 22) “nearly all the north quarter of that magnificent structure, containing the Tropical Department; the whole of the Natural History Collection; the Assyrian, Alhambra, and Byzantine Courts; the Queen’s Apartments; the Library and Printing Offices; the India, Architectural, Model, and Marine Galleries.” (E. Errington, The Western discovery of the art of Gandhara (1987), 90; V. A. Smith, “Graeco-Roman influence on the civilisation of ancient India”, JASB 58 (1889), 107-98 at 113; J. Burgess, “The Gandhara Sculptures”, The Journal of Indian Art 8 (1900), 23-90, at 23-4).
They were never photographed before their destruction, and one particular question I have is thus left unanswerable: whether the Buddha’s companion was indeed more discreetly clothed in the relief that Bayley sketched, or Bayley added the pants out of a Victorian sense of propriety.
We shall never know, but what remains of this blog is dedicated to establishing that the posterior of this figure, be it clothed or left magnificently bare, is of the greatest significance. In both images it belongs to Vajrapani, the attendant and guardian of the Buddha who wields the vajra or thunderbolt, symbol of the Buddha’s penetrating insight. A fascinating feature of Gandharan art is its adoption for the iconography of Vajrapani, in many instances, of the Greco-Roman Heracles, perhaps the most striking example (again no longer in existence) being a Vajrapani from the monastery complex of Hadda in eastern Afghanistan:
In the case of Jamalgarhi, Bayley comments on the Vajrapani he had sketched, “This figure, which has its back turned to the spectator, is admirably designed” (108), and that judgement is easy to understand from the Craddock photo, which shows a remarkably subtle realisation of a muscular Herculean physique.
What’s even more remarkable, though, is the specific source of this Herculean representation of Vajrapani. If we compare the Jamalgarhi Vajrapanis with a reasonably famous image of Hercules…
…we have the same straight right leg and flexed left, the same (shall we say) prominent buttocks, and comparably pronounced musculature of the back. The Farnese Hercules in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples, discovered on the site of the Baths of Caracalla in Rome, is the most famous example of a very common sculptural image of the hero, the so-called “Weary Hercules”, a work originally by Lysippus in the fourth century BC of which over 80 imitations from antiquity survive (M. Beard and J. Henderson, Classical art from Greece to Rome (2001), 199-202), presumably not including these two examples from Pakistan.
Lysippus’ Hercules didn’t travel directly to Jamalgarhi, or at least not necessarily. Another imitation of the Weary Hercules was discovered at the site of Seleucia on the Tigris near Baghdad in the 1980s. This is a precious historical document, as Parthian Sources Online explains: on either thigh of the statue accounts are inscribed, in Greek and Parthian (calling him Heracles in Greek and Verethragna, the name of a Persian hero, in the Parthian), of its capture by the Parthian king in the reconquest of a client kingdom, Mesene, in AD 151. There is no image I can legally place here, I don’t think, but at this site there are front and rear views of Heracles-Verethragna, and the key element of the latter is described by Antonio Invernizzi in La terra tra i due fiumi: venti anni di archeologia italiana in Medio Oriente (1985), 420-22 using unmistakeable terms that also go much better in Italian, somehow: “I glutei asimmetrici sono un po’ squadrati, divisi da un profondo solco e hanno forte rilievo sulle cosce,” “The asymmetric buttocks are a little square, divided by a deep cleft and stand out prominently from the thighs.”
Lysippus’ Heracles at Jamalgarhi, pronounced buttocks and all, has been as fully accommodated in his new Buddhist context as Heracles/Verethragna was in Parthia. Each relief presents stories from the Buddha’s life, presented in consecutive scenes like a cartoon strip, and in the case of the Craddock photo that is the tale of the white dog that barked. This is a discipline full of beautiful books, I have discovered, but Isao Kurita, Gandharan art = Gandara bijutsu (Tokyo, 2003), recommended to me by Peter Stewart, may take the biscuit, two volumes of images of Gandharan art and explanations of their content, and on p. 325 there is a summary of this story: the Buddha visits the house of Śuka, where a white dog on a couch barks furiously at him. The Buddha reveals that the dog is Śuka’s father and that treasure that his father had covetously buried is there to be dug up. The dog, under the Buddha’s influence, proceeds to do so.
The story represented in Bayley’s sketch is less obvious, though it is clearly entirely different. It looks like someone is threatening violence, the figure to our left drawing a sword, but after reading, with Kay Rienjang’s encouragement, Monica Zin’s brilliant article, “About two rocks in the Buddha’s life story”, East and West 56 (2006), 329-58, I don’t think it’s the resentful and aggressive monk Devadatta. It may possibly be the story of Angulimala, a mass murderer converted by the Buddha and taken by him to a monastery, on whom see Zin again, “The unknown Ajanta painting of the Angulimala story”, in C. Jarrige and V. Lefèvre, South Asian Archaeology 2001 II: Historical Archaeology and Ancient History (2005), 705-13. I’m open to other suggestions, needless to say, but this is an important point: “Heracles” features in scenes which are stylistically very influenced by Greece, but in every other respect, and most importantly in their religious significance, Indian. Heracles on the Tigris was still Heracles to those reading his right thigh, at least, but what looks to me like Heracles at Jamalgarhi really isn’t Heracles any more.
That said, there’s something about the virtuosity with which an artist at Jamalgarhi has rendered the Lysippan model, the boldness with which he presents Vajrapani nude, and with his back to us, that seems to demand we compare it to its Mediterranean forebears. It frankly staggers me (perhaps I am easily staggered) that the movement of Heracles across the vast expanses of the ancient world was not just a matter of his general image and physical attributes crossing cultures, but of the persistence of quite specific artistic realisations of the god-hero: here an image created by Alexander’s favourite sculptor features in a Buddhist tale of a man reincarnated as a dog, and maybe also a man turned from extreme violence to peaceful meditation, and that rather encapsulates the astonishing resilience of an artistic idea while all around it is utterly transformed.
My own small contribution to all of this is to note that Vajrapani’s shapely Lysippan derrière featured not just once in the astonishingly rich embellishment of the monastery at Jamalgarhi but twice. And why not? It is a truly illustrious ancestry that those buttocks can claim.