Part III


Bill Weintraub

This to me is one of the most powerful images in all of Greek art.

It's the sidepiece of a helmet found at Dodona, where there was a grove of oak trees sacred to Zeus.

The helmet itself was probably a votive offering, that is an object given to the god in fulfillment of a vow, and was probably presented in thanks for a battle won.

That being so, the helmet very likely was captured in battle and then dedicated to the god by the victor. So it's possible that its owner was killed by the man who brought it to the grove -- in which case, some of the dents in the helmet were probably due to sword blows.

A thought that makes us uncomfortable, and properly so, and reminds us of Jakob Burkhardt's dictum that great suffering often precedes great art.

But that was Greek war. After a battle, the winning side would erect a "trophy." Trophy is a Greek word, and originally a trophy was armor stripped from a dead defeated warrior, propped up on a stick or tree. Sometimes the combatant armies would discuss which side had actually won and therefore had the right to erect a trophy -- once again, warfare had many ritual aspects.

So the two armies might bed down for the night, the winners with their trophy in view, and then fight again in the morning.

The eroticism in the image is obvious and intense.

But what does the scene mean?

The image is ambiguous, but is most often interpreted as a victorious warrior standing over his vanquished foe.

But the warrior on the ground might be the other's friend or his lover as well.

As in so many other images of hoplites and athletes, there's an erotic tension in this bronze that's difficult for us, accustomed as we are to thinking of sport and war as totally separate from eros, to fully comprehend.

But clearly, in many ways, the Greeks were at home with the erotic aspects of war.

Just as men into fightin and frot are at home with erotic expressions of aggression, like boxin, sex wrestlin, and cock combat.

For that reason, these images -- and in particular this one and Achilles Slays Hector -- are very powerful for me.

Not that I want to kill anyone -- for me, as for The Cockster, war and cock combat are meant to give way to phallic mating.

So in my version of the Iliad, Achilles and Hector would have fought, then rubbed cocks, then fallen in love. As would the guys on this helmet.

It's a passage, like that taken by Gilgamesh and Enkidu, through rage to love.

Did that ever happen? Of course.

Just as it can still happen for us.



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