Monday, December 04, 2017
Statues, the very seat of the demons themselves, suffered some of the most vicious attacks. It was not enough merely to take a statue down; the demon within it had to be humiliated, disgraced, tortured, dismembered and thus neutralized. A Jewish tractate known as the Avodah Zarah provided detailed instructions on how to properly mistreat a statue. One can desecrate a statue, it advised, by 'cutting off the tip of its ear or nose or finger, by battering it — even although its bulk be not diminished — it is desecrated'. Merely taking the statue down, or spitting at it, or dragging it about, or throwing dirt upon it, was not, the treatise warned, sufficient — though the resourceful Christian might indulge in all of these as an added humiliation to the demon within.32In note 33, "Theodoret Ellen" makes no sense to me. Perhaps read simply Theodoret or Theodoret of Cyrus. References in the notes are to:
Sometimes, as was the case with the bust of Aphrodite in Athens, the statues appear to have been 'baptized', with deep crosses gouged on their foreheads. If this was a 'baptism' then it may have helped not only to neutralize the devil within, but also to vanquish any more personal demons that could arise when looking at such beautiful naked figures. A naked statue of Aphrodite was, wrote one Christian historian in disgust, 'more shameless than that of any prostitute standing in front of a brothel'33 — and, like a prostitute, Aphrodite and her plump bottom and naked breasts might incite the demon of lust in the viewer. Far less easy to feel desire for a statue who has had a cross gouged in her head, her eyes blinded and her nose sliced from her face. Erotically appealing statues suffered more than chastely clothed ones. We can still see the consequences of this rhetoric. Today, a once-handsome Apollo missing a nose stands in this museum; a statue of Venus that stood in a bathhouse has had her nipples and mons pubis chiselled away; a statue of Dionysus has had his nose mutilated and his genitalia removed.
32. Avodah Zarah 4:5, tr. Elmslie, quoted in Trombley (2008), 156–7.
33. Theodoret Ellen, Treatment of Greek Diseases, 3.79, tr. Gazda 1981 in Kristensen (2013), 224.
- Frank R. Trombley, "The Destruction of Pagan Statuary and Christianization (Fourth–Sixth Century CE)," in The Sculptural Environment of the Roman Near East: Reflections on Culture, Ideology, and Power, edd. Y.Z. Eliav et al. (Leuven: Peeters, 2008), pp. 143–164
- Elaine K. Gazda, "A Marble Group of Ganymede and the Eagle from the Age of Augustine," pp. 125-178, in J. H. Humphrey, ed., Excavations at Carthage Conducted by the University of Michigan, Vol. 6 (Ann Arbor: The Kelsey Museum, 1981), pp. 125-178
- Troels Myrup Kristensen, Making and Breaking the Gods: Christian Responses to Pagan Sculpture in Late Antiquity (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2013 = Aarhus Studies in Mediterranean Antiquity, XII)
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