Callistratus, Descriptions 1. On a Satyr

LCL 256: 372-373

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artist, and to this end is directed all the eloquence he can command. Callistratus is primarily not a student of art, but a sophist who displays his powers in these encomia. Like his predecessors, he held that literature as well as sculpture and painting was an inspired art; he too competed with the works of art he described in the effort to make his descriptions equally works of art; like the poets and the historians, like Demosthenes and Euripides (cf. Nos. 2, 8, 13), he would speak with an inspiration similar to that of sculptor or painter.

While the elder Philostratus emphasized the realism, the illusion of reality in the paintings he described, and at times mentioned the technique by which this illusion was produced; while the younger Philostratus treated paintings primarily as expressing the character and the inner experience of the persons represented, it was the aim of Callistratus to glorify the success of the sculptor in making bronze or marble all but alive in the figures he created. Briefly, he points out in each case how art almost transformed dead matter into the living beings which the artist represented, apparently endowing the material with the softness and colour of flesh, with sensations, with emotions, with passion and intelligence, and with the power to move; and because the statues were all but living beings, they represented the character and inner experience of these beings. There is a certain sameness and conventionality in the way this formula is developed. The details he praises are in almost every instance first the hair, its softness, its waving locks, its moist curls; then he often speaks of the eyes (Nos. 5, 8, 11) as expressing

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character; he constantly dwells on the flesh, its softness and its varying colour as expressed in a material that was hard and of one colour; the power to move, or to seem to move, belongs to his statues as to the statues made by Daedalus (Nos. 3, 8, 9); but the statues he describes are superior to those of Daedalus in that they not only felt sensations of grief or joy or desire (Nos. 1, 3, 5, 8, 9), but they also had the power of sense perception (Nos. 2, 5) and intelligence (Nos. 3, 10, 13) and personal character (Nos. 5, 11, 13). The language of the Alexandrine epigrams dealing with sculpture and statuary, which are preserved in the Anthology, Callistratus transfers to these prose descriptions in order to lend eloquence to his treatment of the theme. If his eloquence sometimes becomes tedious, if it adds little or nothing to our knowledge of Greek sculpture, nevertheless these descriptions are valuable in the light they throw on the significance of the greater Greek art for the fourth and fifth centuries a.d.

It is of little consequence, therefore, whether or not the Descriptions of Callistratus are based on real statues he had seen. Probably we should assume that he writes about what he had himself seen, either in originals or copies, for there is no real reason against this belief; and when he uses the language of hearsay in speaking of the statue of Memnon (pp. 379, 409, infra), he expressly states the fact. At the same time, such praise as he offers to the “Opportunity” of Lysippus or the Bacchante of Scopas or the Eros of Praxiteles by no means proves his personal acquaintance with these statues; indeed it rather smacks of a literary origin.

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DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.callistratus-descriptions_1_satyr.1931