Have you ever been in one of those moods on a Friday afternoon when you are craving a good look at marble statuary? Well, last Friday night at 7pm we met friends and regular tour guide beneath the Group sign below the pyramid at the Louvre to go look at and hear about the Winged Victory of Samothrace, which is one of the most famous marble statues in the world. It was sculpted around 200 B.C. on the island of Samothrace, which is a Greek island in the Aegean Sea. Pieces were discovered in 1863 by a French archeologist, who wrote ‘home’ saying, “I found a statue of a woman…”
Seems that for some 2,000 years, the pieces of marble had been scattered about in the warm Greek dust.
The statue of the ‘woman’ it turned out (after the various pieces were assembled) was the Greek goddess of victory, called Nike. (Yes, that’s where your sneakers got their name. Now, go be victorious, in those swishes.) She was a popular goddess, the incarnation of victory in battle, in competition, so there were, and are, statues honoring her all over the country. Winning, it seems, has always been a popular concept!
But no earlier works seem to have the presence of the Winged Victory of Samothrace. Gracing the top of what resembles a marble prow of a ship, placed above the top of the long Daru marble staircase, the Winged Victory of Samothrace gives to this foyer in the Louvre, a sense of triumph, strength and power. Her placement in the museum is part of her splendor. High above us, and headless, she presides.
How does one sculpt a god? How do you sculpt in hard unforgiving solid marble, the concept of wisdom (Athena), ecstasy (Dionysus), regret (Hades)…victory? How do you try to express in stone the warring factors between struggle and destiny? Whatever you might believe about the ancient civilizations, it is often a surprise to find out they were often strapped with many of the same concerns that occupy us today and through their artworks expressed these beliefs and ideas.
In Samothrace, the goddess’s long chiton, or tunic ripples in the invisible wind, the fine cloth clinging to her form, her wings outstretched in a moment of descent, alighting, one feels, lightly onto earth from her celestial realm. There is some implied majesty in her bearing, bringing as she does the rewards of high feat and smiling fortune. Some force has been conquered, whether literally or metaphorically, it doesn’t really matter.
The hour and a half walking through the corridors of the museum Friday night, listening to the story of the statue unfold, was its own summation. That week, I had my list of accomplishments and also my list of unfinished business. I’d gotten the youngest into next years Girl Scouts, registered the eldest for Tech camp in the U.K. for late summer, met a new Spanish friend for coffee, talked to the theatre teacher, mended a carpet issue, enjoyed a gorgeous long lunch with a (gorgeous) friend in Place Dauphine, put together a band and had a jam, got invites out to a cocktail party here at square Jasmin! But I still needed to reach the Irish embassy, buy a curtain rod which was proving an impossible feat, upgrade my computer, make myself run every day, and finalize part of our Italy trip. There was enough left to do in the ongoing business of life, that feeling victorious wasn’t exactly the word I would use.
Going on that tour Friday night, got me thinking. Aren’t we all warring our own battles, whether proclaimed or accepted as part of the daily routine, whether interior or exterior? Maybe it’s the battle against bureaucratic mediocrity, maybe it’s to fight against prejudice of the oppressed, maybe it’s simply the battle against complacency or self-control. Or in my case, the battle to successfully manage life in France plus make myself jog to the Bois every morning…!
Shouldn’t we remember to celebrate life’s little feats, like those little items checked off the ‘to-do’ on the longer list…?
If looked at that way, isn’t it possible to imagine such a triumphant vision as the Winged Victory of Samothrace alighting in our living rooms, all light and splendor, waving to us, arriving with the news, that indeed, we have accomplished feats of daring and won mighty battles of will…. I think so. Then we go back to our desks, our jobs with a bit of renewed sense, a bit of the ‘wind in the hair’ motion of it all.