Tuesday, April 23, 2024


Pythagoras, Father of Physical Anthropology

Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Aulus Gellius: An Antonine Scholar and his Achievement, rev. ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), pp. 252-263 (material in square brackets added):
In 1.1 Plutarch [fragment 7] relates how Pythagoras calculated Heracles' human height: since the running track at Olympia was 600 of his feet in length, and those in other cities, though also reckoned at 600 feet, were shorter than the Olympic prototype, Heracles' foot was longer than common mortals' feet in proportion as the Olympic stade exceeded others; but since there was a settled ratio between length of foot and height of body, he was also taller than other people in the proportion just established. Read in the light of Vitruvius 3.1.2, 7 (foot : stature :: 1 : 6),9 this makes Heracles' height 6 x 320-45 mm = 1.9227 m [= 6 ft, 3.7 in], striking but not superhuman,10 which suits well with the ancients' unquestioning belief in the heroes' historicity, if supernatural tales were discounted;11 even if we infer from Varro, p. 86 Salvadore at NA 3.10.10 that Heracles was seven Olympic feet = 2.24315 m tall, that would not be quite incredible.

9 But see Gros 18.

11 Apollod. Bibl. 2.4- 9 makes Heracles six foot tall, Herodorus (FGrH 31 F 19) seven; cf. Sol. 1.88 with Salmasius i.42bB-D. He is μορφὰν βραχύϲ beside Antaeus at Pi. I. 3-4. 71, an ode in praise of an ill-favoured victor; the two-cubit footprint by the Dniester, Hdt. 4. 82, would imply a height of 18 feet; Luc. VH 1.7 is a joke, but giants are easily fantasized by persons ignorant of the cube-square law. For the competing conceptions of heroes as human and superhuman in stature see S(amson) Eitrem, SO 8 (1929), 53-6, Von der Mühll 12-13 (cf. NA 3.10.11 on Orestes with Ch. 16 n. 100). Six Olympic feet are 4.89 cm more than the six Byzantine feet allotted Jesus Christ by Epiphanius Monachus, De uita B. Virg. 15 (PG 120.204 c); only 5.25 feet Nicephorus Callistus, Eccl. hist. 1.40 = PG 145.748 c. At BAV Reg. lat. 572, fo. 67r (s. xii in.) lines of 128 mm and 96 mm (so I measure them, despite Rosalind Hill, edn. of Gesta Francorum, 103) purportedly represent 1/15th of Christ's height and 1/9th of his breadth respectively; see too Rykwert 84, 86 (ill.), 418-19 n. 35.

11 Veyne 52-3.
I'm especially interested in Epiphanius Monachus' statement (Holford-Strevens, n. 10) that Jesus Christ was six feet tall—my grandmother used to insist that Jesus was the only person in history who was exactly six feet tall. Others might have been a hair more or less than six feet, she said, but only Jesus was exactly that height.

Related post: How Tall Was Jesus?

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