Backdrop to the story: Hellenism

737px-dying_gaul

I’ve always been a fan of Hellenistic art, such as this sculpture of a Dying Gaul (a Roman copy of the original Greek sculpture, made during Hannibal’s lifetime). Compare the Gaul above to the sculpture below, which shows either Poseidon or Zeus and was made about two centuries earlier, during the Classical era.

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Huge difference, wouldn’t you say?

In the Classical era, art (which, as we all know, imitates life) was about depicting heroism in a stylized, idealized and static way. Even if the god is about to throw a thunderbolt, he seems frozen in time. He does not look like an individual but like a type.

In the Hellenistic era, by contrast, art is about individualized, internal, psychological and much more complex depictions of heroism. The Gaul looks ethnically like a Celt; he is struggling against death with as much turmoil on the inside as on the outside; he looks like he is actually moving on his shield. This is one man, unique, during the moment of his life’s ultimate drama.

Why am I talking about this?

Because the Dying Gaul is a great visual clue about the historical era in which the plot of the main characters in my forthcoming book unfolds. (As always, please remember that the plot and the characters are just the frame for a story that is about us today, about success and failure in our lives!) Hannibal and Scipio encountered each other during this, the Hellenistic, era.

In a coming post, let me try to begin to unravel the mystery I set up in recent posts: namely, how was it possible that Rome, an obscure Italian town that most people had never heard of, came to replace (and erase) Carthage, the Mediterranean superpower, making our own world forever Roman? Understanding these events starts, ironically, with understanding Hellenism, ie the Greeks.

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