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Colossus of Rhodes

The Colossus was a celebrated brazen image of Apollo, of the enormous height of one hundred and five Grecian feet, placed at the entrance of one of the harbors of the city of Rhodes. Rhodes, or rather Rhodus, is an island in the Mediterranean Sea, lying Dearly opposite the coast of Lycia and Caria, from which it is about twenty miles distant.

The Island of Rhodes is about one hundred and twenty miles in circumferenceit has a fertile soil, it produces fine fruits and wines, and has an atmosphere of great serenity, no day passing without sunshine. From Homer we learn, the island was occupied by a colony of Greeks from Crete and Thessaly at an early period, and also that the wealth and power of the inhabitants were considerable. During the Peloponnesian War the Rhodians were flourishing in commerce, arts, and arms, and extending their dominion over a part of the contiguous continent.

The capital was situated on the east coast, at the foot of a gently rising hill, in the midst of a plain abounding with springs and profuse in vegetation. The city was built in the form of an amphitheater, and had numerous splendid buildings: among others was the Halcum, or Temple of Apollo. The Rhodians were for many centuries famous for the study of the sciences, and for their encouragement of literature and the arts; they were in unity with all nations, and their merchants became so enriched that the whole city was supported by them.

Polybius is the first among the ancient writers who mentions the Colossus of Rhodes, in enumerating the donations received by the inhabitants of the island after the fearful earthquake they experienced about 223 years before Christ. "The Rhodians," says he, "have benefited by the catastrophe which befell them, owing to which, not only the huge Colossus, but innumerable houses and a portion of the surrounding walls were demolished." Then follows a list of the rich gifts they received from all parts. Among the benefactors of the town of Rhodes, Polybius mentions the three kings, Ptolemy III. of Egypt, Antigonos Doson of Macedonia, and Seleucus of Syria, father of Antiochus.

The elder Pliny records that the Colossus, after having stood 'for fifty-six years, was overthrown by an earthquake, and that it took Chares of Lindos, to whom the Ehodians had entrusted its re-construction, twelve years to complete his task.

The Colossus was a statue of brass, erected in honor of Apollo, the tutelary god of the island, for the protection he was supposed to have afforded the Rhodians in their recent conflict. It was the workmanship of Chares, of Lindus, a pupil of Lysippus, a celebrated sculptor and statuary of Greece, one of whose great works was a chariot of the sun at Rhodes. Chares, who was assisted by Laches, was engaged on this work twelve years.

As a work of art it did not rank among the masterpieces of Greek sculpture; and in size it was rivalled by earlier statues and was afterwards surpassed. There is a very doubtful story that the Rhodians at first intended the figure to be but half its actual height, and that Chares only doubled his charge when they doubled the height, and was driven by his miscaleulation to bankruptey and suicide. The height was probably 105 feet - Pliny reports the height as 70 cubts [102 feet]: but it is also given as 90 and as 120 feet.

The thumb was so large that few people could clasp it; the fingers were larger than most statues. It was hollow, and to counterbalance the weight, and to render it steady on the pedestals, its legs were lined with large stones. There were winding staircases leading to the top of the statue, from whence might be seen Syria and the ships sailing to Egypt. It is generally supposed to have stood, with distended legs, on the two moles which formed the entrance of the harbor; however, as the city had two harborsthe entrance to the one was fifty feet in width, and the other but twenty feetit seems natural to suppose that the Colossus was placed at the entrance of the narrowest.

The statue was erected BC 300, and after having stood about sixty years was thrown down by an earthquake, which destroyed the walls and naval arsenal at the same time.

The Rhodians after its fall, and the injury their city had sustained, solicited help from the kings of Egypt, Macedonia, and other countries, to enable them to restore it. So great was the commercial importance of Rhodes that their appeal was promptly answered by munificent gifts; the various powers of Asia Minor coming forward with ready zeal to serve a city whose fleets protected the seas against pirates and extended commercial communication; and thus their city was restored to all its magnificence; but the oracle at Delphos forbade them to raise the Colossus.

The statue having remained in ruins for the space of eight hundred and ninety-four years, in the year 672 AD it was sold by the Saracens, who were then masters of the island, to a Jewish merchant of Edessa, who loaded nine hundred camels with the metal. Now allowing eight hundred pounds weight to each load, the brass thus disposed of amounted to seven hundred and twenty thousand pounds weight.

In the middle of the Hippodrome, at Constantinople, there is a kind of pyramid constructed of pieces of stone, which, as we learn from an inscription on its base, was formerly covered with plates of copper. The following is the translation of the inscription, which is in Greek: "This four-sided wonder among lofty things, which through time has sustained much injury, Constantius, now our master, the son of Romanus, the glory of the monarchy, repaired it in such a way as to make it to what it originally was. The Colossus of Rhodes was a stupendous object; and this copper colossus is a wonder here."

Among the Greeks colossal statues were not uncommon. Pausanias mentions several that were thirty feet high. The people of Elis set up a bronze statue of Jupiter, twenty-seven feet high, in the sacred grove near Olympia. The colossus which Nebuchadnezzar set up in the plains. of Dura was "an image of gold, [probably gilt,] whose height was three-score cubits." And the colossal statue of Belus, which Herodotus mentions as having once existed at Babylon, was of solid gold, and twelve cubits high.

The character of Rhodian art was a mixed GrecoAsiatic style, which seems to have delighted in executing gigantic and imposing conceptions; for besides the celebrated Colossus, three thousand other statues adorned the city; and of these one hundred were on such a scale of magnitude, that the presence of any one of them would have been sufficient to ennoble any other spot. The architecture of Rhodes was of the most stately character; the plan was by the same architect who built the Piraeus at Athens, and all designed with such symmetry that Aristides remarks, "It is as if it had been one house." The streets were wide and of unbroken length, and the fortifications, strengthened at intervals with lofty towers, did not appear, as in other cities, detached from the buildings which they inclosed; but by their boldness and decision of outline heightened the unity and conception of the groups of architecture within. The temples were decorated with paintings, by Protogenes, Zeuxis, and other artists of the school of Rhodes. The celebrated picture of Ialysus, who was a celebrated huntsman, and believed by the Rhodians to have been the son of Apollo, and the founder of their city, which in aftertime was taken to Rome, was the object of universal admiration.

Pindar, in one of the most beautiful of the Olympian odes, records the myth, that it was raised by Apollo from the waves. The coins of Rhodes are very numerous, and show good workmanship.' The most common type is a radiated head of the sun, and the reverse a flower, said by some to be a pomegranate, and by others a rose, which may be considered a type allusive to the name of the island, from the Greek word rhodon, signifying a rose.

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There has been considerable disagreement about the statues posture, with almost all depictions of the Colossus showing one leg planted on each side of the entrance to the harbor. According to the generally received idea the Colossus of Rhodes, the celebrated statue of Apollo, was planted at the entrance to the harbour of Rhodes, where it served as a pharos; and that it was of such surpassing magnitude that ships under full sail could pass between its gigantic limbs.

But there is no evidence that the Colossus ever served as a pharos; at least, no ancient author asserts that such was its employment. The first writer who converted it into a beacon-light was Urbain Chevreau, an industrious but not particularly able compiler of the seventeenth century; but he neglects to say from what source he obtained his information.

Nowhere has any authority been found for the assertion that the Colossus of Rhodes spanned the entrance to the harbor of the island and admitted the passage of vessels in full sail between its wide-stretched limbs. No old drawing even of that epoch exists, when the statue was yet supposed to be standing; several modern engravings may be seen, but they are mere works of the imagination, executed to gratify the curiosity of amateur antiquarians, or to feed the naive credulity of the ignorant. Nevertheless, the historian Rollin, several French dictionaries, and even some encyclopedias, adopted the fiction of their predecessors.

Nevertheless the Belgian Colonel Rottiers, and the English geologist Hamilton, endeavor still to place the site of the statue at the entrance to one of the smaller harbors of the island, scarcely forty feet wide. Rottiers goes even further and gives a superb engraving of the Colossus, under the form of an Apollo, the bow and quiver on his shoulders, his forehead encircled by rays of light, and a beacon flame above his head.

Vigenere, in his Tableaux de Philostrate, is supposed to have been the first who ventured to make an imaginary drawing of the Colossus. He was followed by Bergier and Chevreau, the latter adding a lamp to the hand of the statue. A fictitious Greek manuscript, quoted by the mythologist DuChoul, further adorns the Colossus by giving him a sword and lance and by hanging a mirror round his neck.

Others propose that he stood at one side of the harbor, an option that is much more plausible. No ancient account mentions the harbor-spanning pose and it seems unlikely the Greeks would have depicted one of their gods in such an awkward manner. The ludicrous notion that it stood across the harbor would have been suggested by the two curious towers at the mouth of the southern harbor rather than by an ancient epigram.

In the second place, the attitude traditionally ascribed to the Rhodian Colossus an attitude neither graceful nor dignified is also a pure conceit of comparatively modern times. It is, however, more ancient than the former, since it dates from the sixteenth century, when Blaise de Vigenere, the translator of Philostratus, transformed the masterpiece of Chares, the pupil of Lysippus, into a fantastic impossibility. Where he, too, obtained his information, no one can ascertain; for on this important point he preserved the prudent silence of Chevreau.

The Comte de Caylus, a distinguished French archeologist, found fault with his countrymen for admitting this fiction into the school books* for young people, but he sought in vain to trace its origin. In an interesting paper, published by the French Acadimie des Inscriptions, the Comte de Caylus proved 1st, That the Rhodian Apollo was not constructed at the mouth of the harbor; and 2nd, That no ships ever passed between its legs. He did not satisfy everybody, however, and reference was made to the pages of the geographer Strabo. It was found that he made no mention of the remarkable circumstance narrated by Vigenere. He cites a fragment of an epigram in iambic metre, in which the name of the sculptor, Chares of Lindos, is mentioned, and the dimensions of his work namely, seventy cubits are given.

Argo, the ship of the Argonauts, was about 75 feet long and might have had a mast nearly as tall. These dimensions were typical of ships of the time. It must be clear that the reported height of the statue [variously said to be at least 100 feet and never much more than 125 feet] is utterly incompatible with ships of such dimensions passing between the legs of the Colossus. One of the few depictions that attempts this feet clearly demonstrates that it would have been a bit too exciting for both the captain of the vessel and for the Colossus itself. Rather more romantic depictions which show the Colossus towering over the ships easily passing between their legs entail a Colossus of much more colossal dimensions than those reported.

The Count Choiseul-Gouffier, in his Picturesque journey through Greece, published about the year 1780, declares the Colossus with the outstretched legs to be fabulous. He says: "This fable has for years enjoyed the privilege so readily accorded to error. It is commonly received, and discarded only by the few who have made ancient history their study. Most persons have accepted without investigation an assertion which is unsupported by any authority from ancient authors."

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Page last modified: 29-09-2012 18:37:59 ZULU