ΑGALMA

02/03/2017

MAN - A CONNEXUS OF TWO WORLDS

Despite our yearning for a state of being in heavenly domains, our incarnate experience binds us to the material world and its pleasures, the latter of which are so many that we can hardly imagine any kind of afterlife without the functions of our bodies; hence all the religions promising not only the eternity of our souls, but also our reunification with our flesh in its pristine form. Wishful thinking? Perhaps.

For the time being, those of us who enjoy absolute health could also take pleasure in that which we are, that is to say, the only creatures on the planet who can act as Harmoi (nexuses) between the material and the spiritual worlds. Our bodies are the sensors of the former and our souls of the latter. The brain (our intelligence) works as a conduit of information between the two and is, therefore, the harmos/nexus which links material to spirit. Blissful, therefore, is he/she who balances between the spiritual and material worlds without overcorrection either way, like a golden mean between the two. The greater the balance, the greater is the intellectual prowess of the harmos. This naturally requires constant re-assessment of current conditions, which I call "harmoscopesis", through which we achieve self knowledge admitting to ourselves that we are both body and spirit and that we should function as such, astride the golden mean between the two respective worlds.

That been said, half beings are those who neglect the body and reject its pleasures for an absolute bond with the spirit (like religious fundamentalists), just as half beings are those that allow themselves to fall prey to all the base pleasures of the flesh without exercising self control and intellectual and spiritual nourishment.

As things stand, however, the majority of humans are far cries from acting as golden means, as the circumstances established by their daily survival and their environment allow little, if any, room for such a harmonious existence. However, what could be more beautiful than a fit and healthy body ideally accommodating an equally balanced intellectualism, spirit and soul!

The only culture and civilization to have captured in art this poignant yearning for such an ideal is that which once flourished in Greece. It is clearly manifested in all the statues of the great Greek sculptors, like that of Myron's 'discus thrower' and Polycleitus' 'spear bearer.' The Greek word for statue, 'agalma,' is by far more appropriate than the English word which stems from the Latin 'statua' whose semantic field limits itself to the static immobility of the work; for, as already stated, "agalma" literally means 'that which uplifts and pleasantly soothes the soul of the onlooker.'

By removing all possible imperfections that usually accompany the human form and its trial by the onslaught of time, the Greeks immortalized absolute beauty as it may be emanated from a human whose intellect, spirit and body function in splendid harmony. The tranquility manifested in the faces of these works along with the grace and virility of their bodies for ever dictate the measure of human dignity towards which we must always strive.

These forms stand as a constant rebuke to those whose bellies are larger than their chests as indications of decadence and lack of discipline and self control. Until the end of time they will condemn alterations and deformations to the body (as the temple of the soul that it is) declaring that tattoos, perforations and excessive jewelry are barbaric practices by individuals who lack spiritual and intellectual development. In fact, so repulsive was tattooing in the eyes of the Greeks and the Romans, that it was applied as a form of punishment for deserters and slaves. The irony is that today tattooing serves the same purpose, the difference being that the bearers are now self-inflicted in absence of any historical memory or high culture that might cultivate them otherwise as non-slaves... In a nutshell, the pristine human form as represented by the Greek 'agalmata' will always remind us of our cretinism and inadequacies when we deviate from their dictates, as they act as compasses pointing to 'kalokagatheia' - beauty, goodness and human dignity.

The forms of most humans who inhabit the planet are so distant from such perfection that they hardly suffice to act even as shadows of these works. The very few who have approached the forms of Greek 'agalmata' are perhaps some of the world's finest cross-trained athletes, and at that only if they have been genetically endowed with the proper proportions. What is even harder to find is such an athlete with a face that is not a far cry from the tranquility and intellectual completeness as depicted in the Greek forms; for most gym buffs are i-pad-totting, tattoo-bearing buffoons nowadays, more interested in playing "Call of Duty" than cultivating any spirit-nourishing intellectualism.

Meanwhile, if everything is assessed and valued through the experience of its opposite, then, the decline that aging imposes on the body is not felt so intensely by anyone as it is by such athletes. The vitality of youth is taken for granted during its short-lived period of our primes. While the galloping strides of the soul and spirit carry on undeterred by aging, the body eventually wanes like the dying flame of a consumed match. Aware of the volatility of our earthly substance, we place our hopes for some kind of permanence in the divine; hence our desire to reunite with the immaculate forms of our eternal bodies. However, the question that will forever torment our whimsical arrogance is this: What permanence can be achieved in any form, seeing as the divine is in perpetual flux and motion?

For the time being, therefore, the only thing of which we may be certain is that in our present form we have the potential to function as Harmoi "attended by the vision splendid" as it is portrayed in Greek agalmata.

AGING ATHLETE

I've spent a lifetime sculpting you, preparing you for war
in tune with patterns offered me by heroes sung in lore.
Such Apollonian discipline I've striven to apply,
instilling in you vigour, strength, propelling legs to fly.
Polykleitus' and Myron's works were in my soul engraved.
What fool was I to think that you could time survive unscathed.

Oh mortal insignificance of water, earth and flesh,
why have you failed to reap rewards and with my efforts mesh?
Despite endeavours to sustain you equal to my soul-
that burning immaterial force so distant from your goal-
I dread to see that in your worthy effort to attain
perpetual orbit you have proved unworthy of its flame.

-Panagiotis Terpandros Zachariou- 1994