Hard to Beat That Greek Stuff

Robert Browning, Old Pictures in Florence (§11-13)

“If you knew their work you would deal your dole.”
May I take upon me to instruct you?
When Greek Art ran and reached the goal,
Thus much had the world to boast in fructu
The Truth of Man, as by God first spoken,
Which the actual generations garble,
Was re-uttered, and Soul (which Limbs betoken)
And Limbs (Soul informs) made new in marble.

So, you saw yourself as you wished you were,
As you might have been, as you cannot be;
Earth here, rebuked by Olympus there:
And grew content in your poor degree
With your little power, by those statues’ godhead,
And your little scope, by their eyes’ full sway,
And your little grace, by their grace embodied,
And your little date, by their forms that stay.

You would fain be kinglier, say, than I am?
Even so, you will not sit like Theseus.
You would prove a model? The Son of Priam
Has yet the advantage in arms’ and knees’ use.
You’re wroth—can you slay your snake like Apollo?
You’re grieved—still Niobe’s the grander!
You live—there’s the Racers’ frieze to follow:
You die—there’s the dying Alexander.

Dying Alexander in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence – Photo by Yair Haklai

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