It’s a little sad, but I completely lost track of the days, barely remembered it was Wednesday and that I needed to post something. Here is another non-fiction piece. Didn’t have time to read through it, so hopefully it isn’t terrible.
The Winged Victory of Samothrace, more colloquially known as Winged Victory, as had a power over me since I first laid eyes upon it. I’ve actually never seen a full-sized replica, or even the original though, my first exposure was simply a picture in a textbook.
It’s hard to quantify what it is I love about this piece. Most classic Greek and Roman statues are interesting, but I have the same response to them. Of course, I’m fairly certain this statue was made in the Hellenistic art period, which might be part of it. The Hellenistic arts got away from the stoicism and cold reproduction of the previous period, instead focusing on the emotional impacts, but that doesn’t explain it away. Things can be designed to be impactful, but that doesn’t mean they will be.
Turning it over in my mind, I realize that part of the experience of the statue is joy. Not only the thrill of the name, “Winged Victory” something even better than a normal victory, something that flies overhead watching the cheering and partying of the victors, but the lines of the statue. Everything points upward, striving towards the sky. The figure is on tiptoe, on the verge of take-off. Her wings are outstretched, prepared for that first, large, downward thrust. Her chest is thrown out, struggling to ascend even while trapped in stone. Her expression would probably be one of joy, the joy of rising above and leaving the worries of the earth behind.
I can’t know what her expression would be though, for like many ancient works, this one is damaged. She has lost her head and her arms, becoming simply a winged torso. This adds to the meaning though, doesn’t it? How often do we achieve any significant victory unscathed? It is a rare thing, and it would not imbue us with such joy as we see in this mutilated figure. This is a true victory, one which required sacrifice to achieve. The thinking mind is gone, the arms which can hold weapons are gone. All that remains is the heart and the wings to carry her far from her trials.
Maybe that is why I’m always struck so strongly by this piece. It is also a hope of victory despite the odds and the disabilities. That is something I probably need to remind myself of, the possibility of an ascendant victory, as I try to find my own wings in the turbulent world. I hit wall after wall, stumble over and over again, but I can still take off, can I not? Is that not the promise she gives to us with her marble wings poised for take-off. It is still possible to fly, despite what you have suffered.
Would it not be a fitting metaphor if this statue had been seen by Alexander the Great, a near mythological figure in his own right, and seeing something which claimed such ascendance whole and unmarred, took out his sword to scar it. Knowing as he did so, that to be worthy of the joy it expressed it must be stricken down, broken, so that it could rise above those influences.
Some people have tried reconstructing the statue, reproducing what might have been lost. Every picture like that I see though seems wrong. She becomes too heavy for the flight her wings promise. The clean joyful lines obstructed by symbolic swords and graceful features. While some may wish to recreate this masterpiece, I do not and I would fight to prevent it if the missing pieces were rediscovered. The power in this statue of a goddess comes from its shattered form, not in-spite of it. To change that would be to kill this piece of subliminal joy and hope. This marred and broken thing is already victorious, just allow her to fly and gaze on in wonder at her journey.