Farnese Hercules

Heracles is resting. He leans on a club. The end of which is adorned by a lion’s head, hooked by its jaws. The beast’s hide drapes the shoulders. Behind the back, an over-large hand holds two apples. The other hand and the penis are broken off. Even at rest, the hero’s muscles ripple with the strength to lift Heaven from Earth.

The statue was carved in marble by Italian artist Giovanni Comino in the years 1670-1672. It’s a copy of a copy. The original work, long lost, is attributed to the Greek bronze sculptor Lysippos, who worked in the fourth century BC. We know of its existence from the numerous copies made of it. One copy from the third century AD is signed by Glykon of Athens.

Glykon’s reproduction was lost for a time as well. Uncovered in 1546 at the Roman Baths of Caracalla, the statue of Hercules (the hero’s Latin name) was acquired by Alessandro Farnese (1520-1589), who assembled one of the great sculpture collections of the Renaissance. The hero’s resting pose then became known as the Farnese Hercules.

Born to the mortal woman Alcmene, which means “wrathful,” fathered by Zeus wearing her husband’s guise, Heracles was given to fits of rage. In one such fit, he slaughtered his wife and children. In remorse, he sought penance and gave himself into the servitude of Eurystheus, who assigned him a series of labors.

The first labor was to slay the Nemean Lion, which terrorized the countryside. Its teeth could cut armor, and its hide could not be pierced. Heracles whacked it with his club, and skinned the beast with one of its own fangs.

More labors followed, twelve in all. The eleventh was to steal the apples of the Hesperides. Growing from a tree in the goddess Hera’s garden, these apples were of pure gold, tended by the nymph daughters of Atlas, and guarded by a hundred-headed dragon.

Heracles went to the end of the earth, where Atlas, a titan, held the world on his shoulders. Heracles asked where his daughters kept the apples. Atlas agreed to tell him only if Heracles would take his burden for a spell, so he could catch his breath. Heracles sensed a trick, so he lifted the sky, thus giving Atlas some respite without accepting the object of the titan’s condemnation. Information gained, the hero hurried on to the garden, slew the dragon, and purloined the apples.

Glykon’s Farnese Hercules was moved, with much of the Farnese collection, in 1787 to the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples. Comino’s rendition was installed in the gardens at the Chateaux de Sceaux, south of Paris, in 1686. It was moved in 1793 to the Tuileries Garden, where it lived its still life for over two hundred years. In 2010, the statue returned to Sceaux, protected from weather in the Orangerie. Two more copies were made, both from a mold of Glykon’s work. One occupies the place at Tuileries; the other the flower garden outside the Orangerie at Sceaux.

Farnese Hercules  Comino 1670-1672

Heracles pauses to contemplate his twelfth and final labor: to capture Cerberus, the three-headed dog who guards the gates of Hades. A task Eurystheus believes impossible…


Cairos, Forgotten God of Favorable Opportunity

There is a moment, that instant when you must choose to do or not to do. Instinct makes you aware of its importance: Act now, and everything hereafter is different. Act not, and things remain the same.

In her History of Ancient Sculpture (1883), Lucy M. Mitchell describes a Greek deity, long out of fashion, represented in sculpture by Lysippos, who worked in fourth-century-BC Peloponnese:

“Cairos was to the people of Lysippos’ day … an actual god, believed to influence men at critical moments, when sudden decision was required, and leading them to the proper improvement of every fleeting opportunity” (511).

Choose.


Muses of Montparnasse

In time primordial, before there were such things as music, story, or any art,
Earth and Sky were quiet, for no thought could yet be formed.
High atop Mount Helicon a winged horse touched hooves to ground,
Where sprung from Earth a fountain, jet of water unto Sky.
So from Gaia Mother Earth and Uranus Father Sky,
Were begat Melete and Mneme and Aoide, Muses of practice, memory, and song.

The concept of an inspirational muse was born as early as the eighth century BC. In that period, Hesiod dedicates the poetic Theogony as “a rhapsody in honor of the Muses.”

In his Description of Greece, the second-century AD Greek tourist and geographer Pausanias tells of two generations of Muses. The first consists of three elder Muses, daughters of Gaia and Uranus, born as water nymphs on Mount Helicon.

A second generation, offspring of the god-king Zeus and the memory goddess Mnemosyne, gives us the nine Muses of classical Greek mythology. Pausanias has the sisters comfortably installed in their home at the top of Mount Parnassus, one of Greece’s highest peaks.

Each Muse presides over her own domain:

Calliope — eloquence, epic poetry
Clio — history
Euterpe — music, song, lyric poetry
Erato — love poetry, elegy
Melpomene — tragedy
Polyhymnia — hymns, lyric poetry, pantomime
Terpsichore — dance
Thalia — comedy
Urania — astronomy 

Relief sculpture from a second-century Roman sarcophagusRelief sculpture of the nine Muses
from a second-century Roman sarcophagus, now at the Louvre

Such was the status quo until the seventeenth century, when artists, inspired by the Muses, began to imagine each their own personal muse:

“In the seventeenth century, muse was extended to the inspiration of each poet (1665, Boileau), often evoked in the feminine…”
—Muse entry from a French language historical dictionary, Dictionnaire historique de la langue française, Alain Rey (translation mine)

Instead of inspiring the multitude, the third generation muse tends to the creative spark within an individual artist. Furthermore, while in previous generations muses were feminine, in modern times a muse’s gender is open to the artist’s interpretation:

“Traditionally, the muses were women, but mine’s a guy; I’m afraid we’ll just have to live with that.” —Stephen King, On Writing

Meanwhile, still in the seventeenth century, students at the University of Paris, La Sorbonne, held regular poetry recitals to test their wit. They chose for their venue the Pré-aux-Clercs, an abandoned stretch of land along the Seine given to the university by Charlemagne and neighbored by the Church of Saint-Germain des Prés.

In addition to love sonnets and heroic epics, bawdy limericks and derisive satire were among favorite forms. These later, fueled by quantities of alcohol and directed at clergy and church ladies, prompted a veritable war between students and churchmen. At least one death was reported in ensuing riots. Eventually, the university sold the land, and the students were encouraged to take their Dead Poets Society elsewhere.

On the outskirts of the city, a mound of rubble, piled up from a nearby stone quarry, became a convenient dumping ground. Once the city walls were pushed beyond the man-made hill, the dumping ceased, and nature reclaimed its rights.

Over time the mound was packed into a smooth hillock. It was covered with high grass and rampant weeds when the student poets moved in. Having learned well their lessons in Greek mythology, they welcomed inspiration to the recital space by naming the hill after the Greek home of Muses. 

Veuë d'une partie de l'église des carmes“View of part of Carmes Deschaussez Church
and the grand gallery of the Louvre”

In this seventeenth-century drawing by Israel Silvestre, the butte of Montmartre rises in the background, while the artist does his work on Mont de Parnasse (foreground)

The hill itself is long gone now, flattened to make way for Parisian boulevards. However, the name remains. As the city grew, the neighborhood that sprouted up around the old trash heap became known as Montparnasse.

Most recently, in the 1970s, the city’s only sky scraper was pulled up out of the ground: Tour Montparnasse, new home for muses.

Montparnasse Tower over the Jardin de LuxembourgMontparnasse Tower reaches into the sky over the Jardin de Luxembourg

 

 

 

 

 


The first part of this article is myth: “a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon” (Merriam-Webster). In this case, the myth explains the source of human inspiration.

The second part is legend: “a story coming down from the past; especially one popularly regarded as historical although not verifiable” (Merriam-Webster). Though many guide books and historical street atlases make reference to the hell-raising student poets, I've found no primary source to support the story.


 

Plan de Paris en 1657Map of Paris
Johannes Janssonius, 1657

The map is oriented with north to the lower left corner. “Mont de Parnasse” is found in the upper right. The site today is Place Pablo-Picasso in the 6th arrondissement. It’s completely flat.