Among all the curiosities however belonging to this wealthy and illustrious family, the single one most prized is a well-known statue, called in Catalogues by the name of the Fighting Gladiator, but considered here at Rome as deserving of a higher appellation. They now dispute only what hero it can be, as every limb and feature is expressive of a loftier character than the ancients ever bestowed in sculpture upon those degraded mortals whom Pliny contemptuously calls Hordiarij, and says they were kept on barley bread, with ashes given in their drink to strengthen them. Indeed the statue of the expiring Gladiator at the Capitol, his rope about his neck, and his unpitied fate, marked strongly in his vulgar features, exhibits quite a separate class in the variety of human beings; and though Faustina’s favourite found in the same collection was probably the showiest fellow then among them, we see no marks of intelligent beauty or heroic courage in his form or face, where an undaunted steadiness and rustic strength make up the little merit of the figure.
This charming statue of the prince Borghese is on the other hand the first in Rome perhaps, for the distinguished excellencies of animated grace and active manliness: his head raised, the body’s attitude, not studied surely, but the apparent and seemingly sudden effect of patriotic daring. Such one’s fancy forms young Isadas the Spartan; who, hearing the enemy’s approach while at the baths, starts off unmindful of his own defenceless state, snatches a spear and shield from one he meets, flies at the foe, performs prodigies of valour, is looked on by both armies as a descended God, and returns home at last unhurt, to be fined by the Ephori for breach of discipline, at the same time that a statue was ordered to commemorate his exploits, and erected at the state’s expence. Monsignor Ennio Visconti, who saw that the figure reminded me of this story, half persuaded himself for a moment that this was the very Isadas; and that Jason, for whom he had long thought it intended, was not young enough, and less likely to fight undefended by armour against bulls, of whose fury he had been well apprised. Mr. Jenkins recollected an antique ring which confirmed our new hypothesis, and I remained flattered, whether they were convinced or no.