Wanted: Art to Celebrate Achievements

Riace Warrior A

Riace Warrior A

The Riace Bronzes and the Achievements of Capitalism
by Marsha Familaro Enright

I have loved the sculpture of the ancient Greeks since I first saw it in a book, at the age of 12. That’s when I read the Greek myths and knew I had found my religion. The worship of Man.

On Friday, June 30, 2018 with delightful friends in tow, I made a pilgrimage to the Museo Nazionale della Magna Grecia de Reggio Calabria to see the Riace bronzes.

Not Polykleito’s Spear-Bearer, not Alexandros of Antioch’s Venus de Milo, not the Discobolus of Myron nor Michelangelo’s David—not any of these magnificent depictions of human beauty and greatness convey the same power as the Riaces.

Nor can any photos capture their full breathtaking beauty and glory. These are not the gods: these are men as gods.

Unlike the later classical period, they are not a severe, generalized ideal, calmly reposed.

Even the Discobolus has a quietness in his stance and expression in comparison to these warriors. These are men with an energy radiating from their bodies, an energy and form embodying human excellence. And there is no taint of that humility which touches many of the greatest statues of the Renaissance. These have beautiful, but not simply idealized faces; they are individuals, which I adore because they are the embodiment of individual excellence as an ideal for us all.

Ironically, they are known only as Statue A and Statue B. There are many questions surrounding them: these rare bronzes were found off the Calabrian coast of Italy, near Riace. No sunken ship was found near them, and they were in a location that once could have been land, so there is much doubt as to how they arrived in the sea.

And what a find! We have almost no bronze statues of the Greeks, but mostly Roman copies in marble, perhaps to insure they, too, wouldn’t be melted down for other uses. The bronze shows details of hair, veins, skin, eyes, mouth, lashes and expression which I have not seen before.

Phidias, or his student Alcamenes, or Myron, or Polykleitos are the artist-candidates. Statue A was probably created during the early years of classical Greek sculpture, between the years 460 and 450 BC, and Statue B between 430 and 420 BC. I haven’t been able to discover how the historians figured that out.

Statue A: this is a man who doesn’t hesitate to assert himself. Who doesn’t question whether his achievements might be that of a god. His shield held firmly in his left arm, his shoulders gracefully erect, he is tensed for action. His hand’s position indicates a javelin was held lightly in the right. His calcite eyes are on his target in the distance, almost fierce, with his mouth open slightly, not in a snarl, but ready for battle.

Riace Warrior A

Riace Warrior A

The other, Statue B, is slightly slimmer, more relaxed. He gazes a bit more softly and dreamily. Only one of the original eyes is still intact. His stance is firm, but not as energetic as A. I think A looks in his early ‘30’s, B in his twenties, but experts think their ages are reversed. B is as handsome as A, with high cheek bones, well-set eyes, full mouth and luxurious hair and beard – although not quite as full, curly, and long as A. B is equally beautiful in body, but somewhat slimmer, with less callipygian form. 

I wondered if A were Agamemnon or Odysseus, and B Paris. Wikipedia entries argue they are warriors from the Aeschylus story, Seven Against Thebes. No matter, they are clearly Heroic age and they convey the confidence, the assuredness of Man’s rightful place on earth which the Homeric works convey.

Riace Warrior B

Riace Warrior B

In Homer and in their legends and plays, the Greeks warned of hubris, they told of misfortune, they dramatized the tragedy of fate, even for the greatest. But their sculpture captured their deepest belief in the power and achievement possible to human beings.

Today, men and women, implementing the genius of Greek philosophy and its child, science, have created the most remarkable technological and politico-economic progress ever – to reach the stars, the ocean bottom, the tops of mountains; to make the blind see again and the maimed walk; to lift millions out of poverty and enable the most peace and trade humankind has ever seen.

The Renaissance that triggered these achievements began with the art and the heroic vision of the ancients. But today, what do we have in art? Stories, not of tragedy, but utter dissoluteness. Not just sculptures of deformed or alienated humans but things called “sculpture” which are of complete meaninglessness.

The place you see heroic figures most frequently today are super hero movies and in video games. No wonder young men love them.

How I long for a Renaissance of real heroes, a dramatization of real men and women achieving great feats. Don’t the astounding achievements of our high-tech civilization deserve inspiring depictions of what humans have achieved? Wouldn’t you like to see movies and sculpture, novels and paintings celebrating that spirit? How magnificent it would be to have such art lining our streets, like our monumental architecture.

For a Renaissance of the human spirit, we need more than videogames: we need the unabashed and highest artistic renderings of a grand heroic vision to inspire us and remind us of what’s possible in the spirit and the body together. In our day and age, that should be the lionizing of the great scientists, inventors, and producers rather than just the warriors, athletes, and actors.

But to get that we need to reject the skepticism, dogmatism, and nihilism which created the current artistic culture. We need a resurgence of individualism and a recognition of the moral greatness in individual freedom, embodied in the capitalism which deserve awe. And to get that, we need a renaissance of heroic philosophy which validates the power of the human mind to comprehend, create, and produce. A philosophy that validates rather than cast aspersions on human reasoning power, human ability and courage, and the great works made possible by these qualities.

Let’s recover that unabashed assertiveness of our ancient forebears. Not a false arrogance, tainted by unearned doubt, but a clear-minded knowledge that truth and right are hard to achieve, but we can do it and then great feats are possible.

 Originally published at Real Clear Markets on Tuesday, May 28, 2019 as “We Need Art To Deify The Greats Of Capitalism".


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Made In America Radio Interview on
”Captialism the Crucial Protector of the Smallest Minority”

I talk about the ideas in my article in Real Clear Markets (title above) with businessman-host Neal Asbury and economist Richard Roffman at minute 18:58 for about 8 minutes.


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Can Its Graphic-Novel Adaptation Inspire People to Read Anthem?

A book review of Ayn Rand's Anthem: The Graphic Novel by Jennifer Grossman and Dan Parsons (Illustrated by Dan Parsons).

by Marsha Familaro Enright

Ayn Rand’s fiction has been what biographer Jennifer Burns called the “gateway drug” to libertarian ideas since she first began publishing in English with her 1938 novella, Anthem. And, as Steve Moore illustrated in his 2009 Wall Street Journal article, “Atlas Shrugged: From Fiction to Fact in 52 Years”—Rand’s predicted so much of what has transpired that she remains critical to the movement for liberty.

So many young people have no idea of the horrors of collectivist societies—one of the many reasons Anthem should be widely read. It’s the story of a thoroughly collectivized, post-apocalyptic society strongly on the lines of Plato’s Republic. All lives are strictly regulated by the judgment of the guardians, everyone assigned to a profession regardless of intelligence or talent, living in barracks, and coupling anonymously once a year in the City Palace of Mating with a partner also chosen by the rulers. In this society certain words are not only lost but forbidden and punishable by death.

It’s told from the point of view of a young man who’s intelligent, ambitious, inventive, and self-assertive: a recipe for disaster. But he will not be beaten and his discovery of a fundamental concept frees him.

I remember when I taught a class at Rockford College a few years ago in which the students read Anthem. One asked “Is this possible? Could this happen?” I said “It already has. In the Dark Ages, Soviet Russia, Maoist China, Communist Cambodia.”

But how to get those who are used to reading up to two hundred and forty characters and watching YouTube videos galore to read Rand’s long tomes? Even Anthem, often an introduction to Rand’s inspiring vision, is around 15,000 words, approximately a one-hour read.

Atlas Society Executive Director Jennifer Grossman cleverly turned to the graphic novel form for help. The graphic novel appeals to the young who seem to love dystopian stories, judged by the popularity of such works as The Hunger Games and Divergent series. “According to librarians surveyed … graphic novels are among the most circulated categories …” “Even at academic libraries, graphic novels are in demand. ‘Graphic novels are the most frequently requested material in our Ivy League request system,’ says Karen Green, librarian for ancient and medieval history and graphic novel selector at Columbia University.”

Grossman and illustrator Dan Parsons have produced an attractive, glossy version of Rand’s now-out-of-copyright novel. True to the original text, this version illustrates the lyricism of the original prose, as well as the language that embodies the collectivist frame of mind so well.

Parsons’ drawings bring the gruesomeness and the inspiration of the story to life. The dialogue bubbles make it all the more real as the reader sees the words along with the facial expressions. Other elements punch across what life under a collectivist tyranny is like: the Nazi-ish uniforms (the story was written as the Nazis were coming to power), the all-powerful “Council” judges as anonymous hooded figures, the screaming crowd watching the terror of a dissident being burned alive, contrasting dramatically with the serenity of the victim’s face.

I especially enjoyed the depiction of delight which the hero experiences on his first day of freedom in the forest—can you imagine the oppression lifted from everything you did when you realized you didn’t have to follow others’ orders? This is something of which most young people born in the U.S. have no experiential knowledge—Real oppression.

I hope this edition can bring Rand’s great story, along with its heroism and Romantic vision, to a new generation, a generation used to cynicism. Our present-day culture is paradoxical. On the one hand, there’s tremendous admiration for great achievements, shown through the passion for Steve Jobs’ work, the celebration of SpaceX and Blue Horizons, and the enthusiasm for Airbnb’s offerings. On the other hand, there are the endless attacks on capitalism as an evil, greed-laden system and an obsession with “equality.” The consequence: the resurgence of socialism as an ideal, fueled by ignorance and guilt, on the part of the young, and deception on the part of the old who should know better.

The issues are the same as those in the novel. Let’s hope the republication of this book in a new format will help prevent us from falling into the trap of darkness again.

Originally published at The Savvy Street.