As you may recall, I am taking part in the 2018 A-Z Challenge, and my theme is Letters to Dead Artists. Today, I am launching off with A: Alexandros of Antioch. Don’t despair if you’ve never heard of him. No doubt, you have heard of his famous sculpture, The Venus de Milo, which is conspicuously missing her arms. She can be found in the Louvre Museum in Paris. The song I have chosen to accompany the Venus de Milo is “She” performed by Elvis Costello:
May be the famine or the feast
May turn each day into a Heaven or a Hell
She may be the mirror of my dreams
A smile reflected in a stream
She may not be what she may seem
Inside her shell…
Little is known about Alexandros of Antioch. It appears that he was a wandering artist working on commission. According to inscriptions in Thespiae, near Mount Helicon, in Greece dating back to around 80 BCE, his father was Menides and he’d won contests for composing and singing. It is not known when he was born or died.
Yet, perhaps Venus de Milo still speaks for him… a mirror reflecting something of the man who created her.
While I finally had the opportunity to see the Venus de Milo while I was in Paris in 1992, I first heard about her in a poem by Rachel Bradley: Venus Without Arms. It was International Women’s Day 1989, in Sydney University’s Manning Bar and I was performing my poetry at the launch of Rachel’s poetry anthology: Dragonshadow. So, you could say I was a supporting artist. Venus Without Arms addresses the objectification and sexualisation of a woman’s body, and the resulting loss of power. The concluding stanza reads:
I can’t believe it was just
that broke only your arms
and rendered you a Work of Art.
This poem has stayed with me for the last 28 years, and has come back to me whenever I’ve felt disempowered and a modern day Venus without arms.
Much mystery surrounds the Venus de Milo. These mysteries extend way beyond what happened to her missing arms, and what they were doing before they disappeared. Indeed, there’s even been controversy and uncertainty over who sculpted Venus. Moreover, while she is known as “Venus”, her more correct Greek title would have been “Aphrodite”. However, when you consider that Venus was made between 130 and 100 BC and is at least 2, 117 years old, it’s hardly surprising that she has her secrets.
Indeed, we are lucky that Venus was even found. You see, she hasn’t always lived in splendour at The Louvre. Rather, she was discovered in 1820 on the Greek island of Milos, while local farmers were digging up stones to make their houses. A farmer called Theodoros Kentrotas tried to hide the statue in his stone house, but Turkish officials seized it. The French naval officer, Julius Dumont d’Urville realized its importance and purchased the statue. It was then taken to France, and offered to Louis the XVIII, who presented her to the Louvre.
When I considered putting together this series of Letters to Dead Artists, Alexandros of Antioch was understandably not at the top of the list of artists who’ve inspired me. However, that’s not how this challenge works. It’s an alphabetical challenge where you need to write a post for each letter of the alphabet during April. Nobody had come to mind for A and I was stoked to find Alexandros of Antioch and this personal connection. I didn’t have to stretch the truth.
Letter to Alexandros of Antioch
I am writing to you about a sculpture you created of Aphrodite many years ago, which has been found on the Greek island of Milos. By the way, I probably should tell you that the year is now 2018.
It must feel rather strange to receive a letter from so far into the future. A future, which is over two thousand years ahead of your time, and must look very strange indeed. There are cars, trains and planes and humans have even landed on the moon. Recently, a car was even launched into space. That even blew me away.
Unfortunately, I can’t tell you that I’m proud of everything we humans have done. We have destroyed so much and have enough weapons to blow up the planet many times over. We’ve destroyed entire species and now even the survival of our beautiful planet, is in doubt. Sometimes, I’m ashamed to be a human. However, then something wonderful happens and I am reminded of the good. Indeed, I am certain that there is even good in all of us.
Well, I’d like to ask you a very simple question…Could you please draw me a sketch of Aphrodite with her original arms just as you designed them. What she was doing? What is she trying to say and what thoughts are stuck behind those marble lips? She really looks like she’s holding something back. Perhaps, it’s the secret of real beauty. I don’t know, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if she could step down off the dais, and even speak… Goodness knows how many people she’s been watching and overhearing at the Louvre. I’d like to think she’s absorbed all their wisdom, but you never know. It could all just be drivel.
Anyway, please forgive me for asking so many questions, but my curiosity ran away from me. After all, it’s not every day you get to write a letter to the man who created Venus de Milo!
Thank you very much for your letter. It’s been awhile since I’ve received any mail.
I have to admit that I’m rather proud of Aphrodite and all that she’s become, just like any parent whose child becomes an icon, yet I’m pleased she’s still maintained her mystique.
However, I was devastated to read that her arms have been cut off. Why hasn’t anybody tried to fix her? Given her some new arms? Anything would do, although I’ve heard there are some wonderful prosthetics these days. She’d have much more fun waving and shaking hands with the crowds, rather than being so standoffish. She was never meant to be a victim. Why turn her into one?
Now, I will leave you with a piece of advice my new friend from the 21st century. You weren’t meant to turn over every stone and know what’s hiding underneath. We need unanswered questions, our mysteries, because if we have all the answers, then we’ll no longer need to search. If we stop searching, then we’ll forget to ask. We always need to wonder.
Give my love to Aphrodite and make sure you sort out those arms.
Yours in friendship,
Alexandros of Antioch
 Rachel Bradley, Dragonshadow, Women’s Redress Press, Sydney, 1989, p 4.
I enjoyed your post today. Love the correspondence at the end. Clever format. Visiting from
If I Only Had A Time Machine
Rowena, this was a beautiful post. And such a wonderful letter to one who created such an iconic work of art.
Dear Rowena, This is such a fascinating theme you’ve chosen for the AtoZ challenge. Alexandros of Antioch was a fantastic read. I loved both the letters, especially the one to the artist. I’ll stay tuned for more such letters.
A is for Absent Minded
The article took me to archeological state frankly and I was wow can’t imagine this kinds of letters until I read urs
Thank you very much. I am a tad unique.
Thank you very much, Varad. I am learning so much through this challenge. Goodness knows where it is taking me, but it feels like an exciting journey!
This is very fun… but I do wish he’d provided the sketch!
Pingback: B: Botticelli…A-Z Challenge. | beyondtheflow
Reblogged this on Die Erste Eslarner Zeitung – Aus und über Eslarn, sowie die bayerisch-tschechische Region!.
very nice post, I learned Sth new while being entertained. Thank you!
What a fabulous theme, and what a wonderful first entry. I loved the little history lesson, but the letters themselves are gems. Looking forward to the rest of April and this series of yours!
Thank you very much, Deborah. I used to be a prolific letter writer, but the art is being lost these days and email isn’t the same. There was always something intimate, creative and special about those hand-written letters written from the heart.
You’re welcome, Andi. I’m learning a lot myself. I know they advise you to write about what you know, but I also love exploring new realms through my writing. It’s like travelling from your armchair at home.
Thanks very much.
On your ‘about’ page, you describe yourself as quirky. I would like to add super intelligent, highly creative, and an exceptional writer. I love your theme, Rowena, and really enjoyed this first entry. I knew nothing about the sculptor, and really hadn’t given any thought to meaning of the missing arms. Great information, and great letters. I especially like your artist’s reminder to leave some stones unturned and some questions unanswered so that we always have the opportunity for wonder and awe.
Delightful post. I love how you introduced to Alexandros the things of the future and asked about his masterpiece’s missing arms. Can you indeed image the horror the artist would feel if he knew? I like the response he came back within marveling about such mysteries and the need for searching out answers. 🙂 Happy A2Zing!
Pingback: C- Grace Cossington Smith (1892 – 1984): A-Z Challenge. | beyondtheflow
I might not be able to read here daily but I will definitely be back to read each one in any good reading moment of one day or another. Wonderful them, wow plus! I can’t wait to get back to Botticelli and GraceCS and whoever you’re writing to and from next. best wishes to you and yours and happy A-Z-ing. (Must follow your blog to catch sight in the Reader perhaps, i’m not always good at keeping up though).
Thanks so much, Colette. My posts for the A-Z are quite lengthy but each artist is hard to cut back and I am finding out some amazing stuff which I just have to share. I didn’t realize how little I actually knew about the artists behind my favourite works. It’s been eye-opening.
Rowena – This is totally brilliant. I love, love, love your letter….and the reply! Congratulations on choosing such an inspiring theme, and having the talent to absorb your readers so completely…and leave a few important lessons along the way!
Thank you very much. I really appreciate your encouragement.
Pingback: Letters to Dead Artists Weekly Round-Up… A-Z Challenge. | beyondtheflow
“You weren’t meant to turn over every stone and know what’s hiding underneath. ”
I do like this line, some things should remain a mystery.
Thanks very much. I am quite a thorough researcher, especially when I’m not trying to cover a genius of an artist every day. However, there comes a point where you have to let go and realize you’ve reached the end of the road…at least for now. I also do like that idea that we’re not meant to know and find out everything, because it takes the pressure off a bit I think. I hope.
Pingback: A-Z Weekly Round up…Letters to Dead Artists. | beyondtheflow
Pingback: Letters to Dead Artists – Weekly Round Up…A-Z Challenge | beyondtheflow
Thank you very much, Cathy. Sorry for the delayed response. Sometimes, it seems like WordPress hides them from me. How did the A-Z finish up for you? I’m just getting my reflection post sorted and it’s taking quite a lot of work.
Pingback: Reflections- Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge 2018. | Beyond the Flow
Thanks very much, Cristian. The challenge has now finished and I managed to get quite a body of work together. Here’s a link to the summary: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2018/05/07/reflections-letters-to-dead-artists-a-z-challenge-2018/
Thanks very much, Maryann.