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Polykleitos of Argos


Polykleitos both signs as an Argive and is named as such by all except Pliny; here he is placed second (after Pheidias and before Myron) in the "Xenokratic" catalogue of leading bronze workers:

“Polyclitus of Sicyon, a pupil of Hageladas, made a "Diadoumenus", a supple youth, famous for having cost 100 talents, and a "Doryphorus", a virile-looking boy. He also made a statue that artists call the "Canon", and from which they derive the principles of their art, as if from a law of some kind, and he alone of men is deemed to have rendered art itself in a work of art. He also made a man scraping himself with a strigil, a nude stepping on a knucklebone, and two boys, also nude, playing with knuckle-bones; these are called the astragalizontes and are in the emperor Titus's atrium — a work which, some claim, has no rivals in perfection. He also made a Mercury that was once at Lysimachea, a Hercules now in Rome, a commander taking up arms, and Artemon, called the Man in the Litter. He is deemed to have perfected this science and to have refined the art of metalwork, just as Phidias had revealed its possibilities. It was strictly his invention to have his statues throw their weight onto one leg, though Varro says that they are foursquare and all virtually stereotyped.

Pliny, N.H. 34.55-6
The change of ethnic looks like a clear case of pro-Sikyonian bias from a time when Sikyon had largely usurped Argos's leading role in Peloponnesian bronze work, and in turn helps to confirm Xenokrates, an adherent of the Sikyonian school, as the ultimate source for Pliny's account, which culminates with Lysippos' own work in Chs. 61-5 (T 124).

Close reading reveals more inconsistencies. Supposedly (with Myron and Pheidias) a pupil of Hageladas (cf. T 25), he nevertheless seems to have worked almost to the century's end, if he really made the Argive Hera (T 63-4, 87, etc.) as antiquity unanimously believed: the old temple burned in 423 (Thuc. 4.133), the new was completed ca. 400 (Ch. 14.2). Noting that Pliny ignores this statue entirely while elsewhere recording a floruit (420-417: T 1) that neatly coincides with its presumed date, Ridgway (1981a, 201) and others have preferred to attribute this statue to Polykleitos II, apparently active ca. 405-350. Yet in T 87 Pausanias emphatically distinguishes the Hera's author from the younger Polykleitos, "pupil of Naukydes", and the whole problem vanishes if one accepts that Pliny drew T 1 and T 62 from different sources, and that Xenokrates was not interested in chryselephantine but bronze.

If the Hera, his only venture outside bronze, marks the climax of Polykleitos' work, his early career remains extremely problematic. Though Paus. 6.4.11 attributes a statue of the boy-boxer Kyniskos at Olympia to him, its base (datable epigraphically to ca. 470-450) is unsigned; Kyniskos triumphed either in 464 or 460 (Moretti 1957, no. 265, cf. 256), so if the attribution holds, this must be a very early work. The "Westmacott boy" in London (London 1754; Stewart 1990, figs. 386-87) seems to match the footprints on this base and could — just — be this early, though most now prefer to place it in the 420s or later; see also Berger 1978 for a completely different identification. Of the statues Pliny mentions, the Doryphoros (Naples, Museo Nazionale Archaeologico 6146) and Diadoumenos (Athens, NM 1826; Stewart 1990, figs. 378-85) are usually dated to the 440s and 420s, respectively, the Amazon (Rome, Museo Capitolino 651; T 60; Stewart 1990, fig. 388) to ca. 430.

All in all, a career lasting from the 450s to ca. 410 seems not incredible; he was probably dead or retired by 405, when Lysander commissioned his pupils to make his great victory monument at Delphi (T 85). One of them, Antiphanes, already belonged to the school's second generation (Paus. 5.17.3-4). Plato's note that his sons — both nonentities! — were youths in 433 and contemporaries of Perikles' children (Protagoras 328C; cf. Guthrie 1975, 214-15) may point the same way; the latter were apparently born before 450. At any rate, Donnay's decisively lower chronology (1965, 462: birth of Polykleitos ca. 460, activity ca. 435-395) seems untenable.

Excluding works attributable to his later namesake, Polykleitos' attested output (all bronzes except no. 1) is as follows:

    Gods and heroes
    • Hera in the Argive Heraion, in chryselephantine (T 63-4, 87
    • Hermes, later in Lysimacheia (T 62
    • Herakles, later in Rome (T 62
    • Herakles and the Hydra
    • Amazon at Ephesos (T 60
    • Doryphoros (Achilles?) (T 62
    • Diadoumenos (T 62
    • Apoxyomenos (T 62
    • The boy-boxer Kyniskos of Mantinea, at Olympia
    • The pentathlete Pythokles of Elis, at Olympia, later in Rome
    • Nude youth stepping on a knucklebone (Kairos?) (T 62
    • Two nude youths playing knucklebones (T 62
    • Commander taking up arms (Theseus?) (T 62
    • Two basket-bearers, stolen in Sicily by Verres in 73-70
    • Artemon (T 62
Pausanias describes the Heraion at length, while Strabo compares the Hera with Pheidias' chryselephantine work:

“They say the architect was Eupolemos, an Argive; concerning the sculptures carved above the columns, some refer to the birth of Zeus and the battle of the gods and giants, others to the Trojan War and the sack of Troy .... The statue of Hera sits on a throne and is huge; made of gold and ivory, it is the work of Polykleitos. She wears a crown with Graces and Seasons worked in relief, and in one hand carries a pomegranate, in the other a scepter. About the pomegranate I must say nothing, for its story may not be told, but concerning the cuckoo that sits on the scepter they say that Zeus, when he was in love with the virgin Hera, turned himself into this bird, and she caught it to be her pet. This and other similar tales about the gods I relate without believing them, but relate them nevertheless. By Hera's side stands what is said to be an image of Hebe, by Naukydes, of ivory and gold also, and by its side is an ancient image of Hera on a column. This, the oldest image of her, is made of wild pear-wood, and was dedicated at Tiryns by Peirasos son of Argos, but when the Argives destroyed Tiryns they carried it off to the Heraion; I saw it myself, a small, seated image.

“In this temple are xoana made by Polykleitos, in execution the most beautiful in the world, but in costliness and size inferior to those of Pheidias.

Indeed, unlike the Zeus, the Hera has left no secure copies at all. Though Dionysios of Halikarnassos (T 61) praises Pheidias and Polykleitos equally, that the judgment of T 64 was generally accepted in antiquity is shown by Quintilian's more sophisticated version of it in T 3, and by the vastly greater attention paid to the Zeus by Greek and Latin authors generally.

In fact, Polykleitos' statues of gods or agalmata were apparently as neglected by the copyists as were Pheidias' statues of mortals (andrianta; the special case of the Amazon apart), though this did not prevent occasional attempts to furnish his figures with divine attributes: cf. Fleischer 1978; Wrede 1981, 30, 276, 279. Clearly, in Roman eyes Pheidias the agalmatopoios and Polykleitos the andriantopoios (T 115) were each supreme in their own specialty, and that was that. The germ of this judgment is even recognizable in Aristotle:

“The term sophia is employed in the crafts to denote those men who are the most perfect masters of their craft, like Pheidias in stone-carving and Polykleitos in making statues of men (andriantopoia).

As for his other works, copies have been recognized of (3), (5)-(9), and (13), with varying degrees of plausibility; once again, Roman adaptations, lost attributes, and the stereotypical tendencies of the canon itself (T 62) confuse the issue for all but the Doryphoros (Naples, Museo Nazionale Archaeologico 6146) and Diadoumenos (Athens, NM 1826; Stewart 1990, figs. 378-85), though even their exact identities remain uncertain. Casts of the (Sosikles) Amazon, the Westmacott Boy (cf. 9), and perhaps the Doryphoros have been identified among the finds at Baiae: Landwehr 1985, 70-76, 94-100, 177; Stewart 1990, fig. 387. As for the rest, (11) and (12) are problematic, not least because Pliny's meaning is unclear (cf. Berger 1978), while (13) may be Theseus finding the tokens or gnorismata left under a rock at Troezen. No. 14 looks suspiciously like law-court hyperbole (Cicero, In Verrem 4.3.5; in the same local private collection with works supposedly by Myron and Praxiteles!); perhaps all three were high-class copies. Finally, (15) may be Perikles' engineer Artemon; decidedly alien to the rest of Polykleitos' oeuvre, it too remains a puzzle.

The canon itself — surely identical with the Doryphoros (cf. esp. Linfert 1982, 60 n. 22) — has inspired many attempts at reconstruction, some of which are critiqued in Stewart 1978b. Ironically, the most original and (to my mind) convincing attempt is still unpublished (Leftwich 1987), so is almost completely unknown to the scholarly community at large. Adducing nine hitherto-overlooked citations of the canon in Galen, Leftwich shows both that it was probably based upon recent advances in medicine and science: the contemporary Hippokratic principle of isonomia or 'equilibrium', and the ratios established by Pythagoras for the perfect intervals of the musical scale (so Stewart 1978b, 130-31), namely, 1:2 (octave), 2:3 (fifth), and 3:4 (fourth).

The following are the major texts:

“Many, though, have begun the construction of weapons of the same size, and have made use of the same system of rules, the same types of wood, and the same amounts of iron, and have kept to the same weight, yet of these some have made machines that throw their missiles far and with great force, while those made by others have lagged behind their specifications. When asked why this happened, the latter have been at a loss for an answer. So it is appropriate to warn the prospective engineer of the saying of Polykleitos the sculptor: perfection, he said, comes about little by little [para mikron] through many numbers. And in the same way, as far as concerns our science, it happens that in many of the items that go to make up the machine a tiny deviation is made each time, resulting in a large cumulative error.

Philo Mechanicus 4.1, 49.20

“(86a) But those who are making progress, of whose life already, as of some temple or regal palace, "the golden foundation has been wrought," do not indiscriminately accept any action, but using reason to guide them they bring each one into place and fit it where it belongs. And we may well conceive that Polykleitos had this in mind when he said that the task is hardest for those whose clay has come to the fingernail.

(636B-C) And in the arts, formless and shapeless parts are fashioned first, then afterwards all details in the figures are correctly articulated; it is for this reason that the sculptor Polykleitos said that the work is hardest, when the clay is at [or on] the fingernail.

Plutarch, Moralia 86A, 636B-C

“Modellers and painters and sculptors, indeed image-makers in general paint or model the most beautiful figures, such as the most comely man, horse, ox, or lion, by observing in each case what is the mean within each genus. And one might commend a certain statue, the one called the "Canon" of Polykleitos, which got its name because it had a precise commensurability (symmetria) of all the parts to one another.

Galen, De Temperamentis (p. 566.14 Kuhn)

“Beauty, Chrysippos believes, inheres not in the commensurability (symmetria) of the constituent elements of the body, but in the commensurability of the parts, such as that of finger to finger, and all these to the palm and wrist, and of these to the forearm, and of the forearm to the upper arm, and of everything to everything else, just as it is written in the "Canon" of Polykleitos. For having taught us in that treatise all the commensurate proportions of the body, Polykleitos made a work to support his account; he made a statue according to the tenets of his writing, and called it, like the treatise, the "Canon".

Galen, De Placitis Hippocratis et Platonis 5 (p. 3.16 Kuhn)

“When the most renowned sculptors and painters wanted to carve or paint figures that were the most beautiful possible, they never fell into the error of taking some [fat eunuch like] Bagoas or Megabyzus as a model, but rightly selected the well-known Doryphorus, suitable both for war or athletics ...

Quintilian 5.12.21
The translation of para mikron in T 66, which has provoked much controversy, is secured by a hitherto unnoticed parallel in Diogenes Laertius 7.26. Because of its striking similarity to these texts, the following passage has also been plausibly associated with the Canon:

“Now in every piece of work, beauty is brought to perfection through many numbers that come to a congruence (kairos), so to speak, guided by some system of commensurability (symmetria) and harmony, whereas ugliness is immediately ready to spring into being if only a single chance element be omitted or added out of place; so it is with listening to lectures...

Plutarch, Moralia 45C
The range of T 65-71, encompassing six centuries, five literary genres, and two cultures, is revealing: like that of Pheidias, Polykleitos's achievement swiftly entered the consciousness of both the literary élite and its wider audience, becoming a handy simile, even a cliché, to be deployed as appropriate. And also like Pheidias, he appears constantly in ancient discussions of the artist's status, from T 65 to Lucian's Dream. For as Pliny aptly noted, "he alone of men is deemed to have rendered art itself in a work of art" (T 62).

Select bibliography:

(A) General: Furtwängler 1895/1964, 223-92; ThB 27: 225-29 (Bieber, 1933); Picard 1935-1971 (vol. 2): (Picard/Manuel) 257-307; Lacroix 1949, 254-58; Lippold 1950, 162-69; RE 21.2: 1707-18 (Lippold, 1952); EWA 9: 423-24 (Berger, 1958); P.E. Arias 1964; Donnay 1965; EAA 6: 266-74 (Beschi, 1965); Boardman 1967, 366-70; Richter 1970d, 189-96; Lorenz 1972; Zanker 1974; M. Robertson 1975, 328-39; Ridgway 1981, 201-6; Wrede 1981; Borbein 1982; Rolley 1983/1986, 161-63; Boardman 1985a, 205-06; Mattusch 1988, 162-66; Beck 1990; Stewart 1990, 160-163, 3238-39, 263-66, and index, s.v. 'Polykleitos'.

(B) Sources: Overbeck 1868/1959, nos. 929-977; Löwy 1885/1976 nos. 50, 90-92; Stuart-Jones 1895/1966, 124-131; Jex-Blake 1896, xvi-xxii, li-lii, lxviii, etc; Schweitzer 1932/1963; Jucker 1950, 118-40; Pollitt, 88-92; Pollitt 1974, passim; Gallet de Santerre 1983, 49-52, 54-5, 59, 70-1, 200, 217-223; Beck 1990, 48-78 (N. Kaiser); Pollitt 1990, 75-79, 222-23.

(C) The Canon/Doryphoros: Schulz 1955; Carpenter 1971, 100-108; Steuben 1973; Philipp 1975; Tobin 1975; Stewart 1978b; Landwehr 1985, 177 (casts?); Leftwich 1987; Beck 1990, 135-98 (Philipp, Berger, von Steuben); Kreikenbom 1990.

(D) Other works and attributions: Berger 1978; Fleischer 1978; Vierneisel-Schlorb 1979, 71-7, 188-95; Landwehr 1985, 70-76 nos. 40-41 (Sosikles Amazon casts) 94-100 nos. 59-62 (Westmacott casts); Hartswick 1986 (Amazon); Beck 1990, 111-20, 199-239 (P. and R. Bol)(Diskophoros, Hermes, Herakles, Diadoumenos, Amazon); Kreikenbom 1990 (Diskophoros, Hermes, Herakles, Diadoumenos).

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