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Anno Urbis - The Roman Empire Online

Bulfinch's Age of Fable

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THE OLYMPIAN JUPITER

The statue of the Olympian Jupiter by Phidias was considered the highest achievement of this department of Grecian art. It was of colossal dimensions, and was what the ancients called "chryselephantine;" that is, composed of ivory and gold; the parts representing flesh being of ivory laid on a core of wood or stone, while the drapery and other ornaments were of gold. The height of the figure was forty feet, on a pedestal twelve feet high. The god was represented seated on his throne. His brows were crowned with a wreath of olive, and he held in his right hand a sceptre, and in his left a statue of Victory. The throne was of cedar, adorned with gold and precious stones.

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."]


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