The idea which the artist essayed to embody was that of the supreme deity of the Hellenic (Grecian) nation, enthroned as a conqueror, in perfect majesty and repose, and ruling with a nod the subject world. Phidias avowed that he took his idea from the representation which Homer gives in the first book of the “Iliad,” in the passage thus translated by Pope:
“He spoke and awful bends
his sable brows,
Shakes his ambrosial curls and gives the nod,
The stamp of fate and sanction of the god.
High heaven with reverence the dread signal took,
And all Olympus to the centre shook.”
[Footnote: Cowper’s version is less elegant, but truer to the original:
“He ceased, and under his
dark brows the nod
Vouchsafed of confirmation. All around
The sovereign’s everlasting head his curls
Ambrosial shook, and the huge mountain reeled.”
It may interest our readers to see how this passage appears in another famous version, that which was issued under the name of Tickell, contemporaneously with Pope’s, and which, being by many attributed to Addison, led to the quarrel which ensued between Addison and Pope:
“This said, his kingly brow
the sire inclined;
The large black curls fell awful from behind,
Thick shadowing the stern forehead of the god;
Olympus trembled at the almighty nod.”]
This was also the work of Phidias. It stood in the Parthenon, or temple of Minerva at Athens. The goddess was represented standing. In one hand she held a spear, in the other a statue of Victory. Her helmet, highly decorated, was surmounted by a Sphinx. The statue was forty feet in height, and, like the Jupiter, composed of ivory and gold. The eyes were of marble, and probably painted to represent the iris and pupil. The Parthenon, in which this statue stood, was also constructed under the direction and superintendence of Phidias. Its exterior was enriched with sculptures, many of them from the hand of Phidias. The Elgin marbles, now in the British Museum, are a part of them.
Both the Jupiter and Minerva of Phidias are lost, but there is good ground to believe that we have, in several extant statues and busts, the artist’s conceptions of the countenances of both. They are characterized by grave and dignified beauty, and freedom from any transient expression, which in the language of art is called repose.
The Venus of the Medici is so called from its having been in the possession of the princes of that name in Rome when it first attracted attention, about two hundred years ago. An inscription on the base records it to be the work of Cleomenes, an Athenian sculptor of 200 B.C., but the authenticity of the inscription is doubtful. There is a story that the artist was employed by public authority to make a statue exhibiting the perfection of female beauty, and to aid him in his task the most perfect forms the city could supply were furnished him for models. It is this which Thomson alludes to in his “Summer”: