A Fanciful Story with a Surprising Climax

Yesterday Palaiophron posted a poem from the Greek Anthology on Praxiteles’ famous statue of Aphrodite on Knidos. Later accounts repeat a memorable anecdote.

Pliny the Elder, Natural History 36.4 (21)

“Later, Nicomedes the king wanted to buy the statue from the Knidians, promising to unburden the state of its public debt, which was immense. They preferred to live with this and not without good reason—for Praxiteles ennobled Knidos with this sculpture. Its temple is open all around so that it is possible to see the goddess’ image from every direction. The goddess favors this herself, as the story goes. There is no less sense of wonder from any direction. They report that a certain man was taken with love for it and, once he had hidden himself for the night, he let himself loose upon the image, and there is a stain to show his desire.”

voluit eam a Cnidiis postea mercari rex Nicomedes, totum aes alienum, quod erat ingens, civitatis dissoluturum se promittens. omnia perpeti maluere, nec inmerito; illo enim signo Praxiteles nobilitavit Cnidum. aedicula eius tot aperitur, ut conspici possit undique effigies deae, favente ipsa, ut creditur, facta. nec minor ex quacumque parte admiratio est. ferunt amore captum quendam, cum delituisset noctu, simulacro cohaesisse, eiusque cupiditatis esse indicem maculam.

Valerius Maximus, Memorable Deeds and Sayings 8.2 ext 3

“Praxiteles centered the wife of Vulcan in marble in the Knidians’ temple as if she were breathing—and she was barely safe from a lustful embrace because of the beauty of the work. In this, a mistake is rather excusable for a horse who, when he sees the picture of a mare is compelled to utter a neigh; or when a dog is excited by the sight of a painted dog to bark; or the bull in Syracuse who was compelled to lust after and mount a bronze cow that was just too close to real. Why, then, should we be amazed that animals who lack reason are deceived by art, when we see a man’s sacrilegious desire elicited by the shape of silent stone?”

Cuius coniugem Praxiteles in marmore quasi spirantem in templo Cnidiorum collocavit, propter pulchritudinem operis a libidinoso cuiusdam complexu parum tutam. quo excusabilior est error equi, qui visa pictura equae hinnitum edere coactus est, et canum latratus aspectu picti canis incitatus, taurusque ad amorem et concubitum aeneae vaccae Syracusis nimiae similitudinis irritamento compulsus: quid enim vacua rationis animalia arte decepta miremur, cum hominis sacrilegam cupiditatem muti lapidis liniamentis excitatam videamus?

Image result for knidian venus

I cannot quite gauge ValMax’s tone here–is he completely sanguine about this anecdote? How might our current, pornographically advanced society strike him? How would he feel about the ethics of sex with robots and its threat against the future of humanity?

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