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by Archaeology Newsroom

Ancient Greek sculptors as magicians

A general outline is drawn of the ancient sculptor as a magician, as the maker of live statues. The important function attributed by literary tradition to Daedalus in making live statues is discussed and the Near-Eastern roots of this belief are briefly considered. The evolution of this belief from Homeric times down to the Classical and late-Classical periods is presented, with emphasis given to the periods dominated by the “theatrical mentality”, as well as by a taste for a refined finish of the statue’s surface. Agalmatophilia is analysed, especially its evidence and development from the 4th century BC until the time of Apollonius of Tyana. The beliefs that a) marble statues already existed inside the blocks of stone, and that the sculptor simply liberated them, removing the superfluous material, and b) that some statues could speak, were typical of the Hellenistic and Roman Imperial mentality. Finally, the late antique and early Christian concept of statues as magical and the assertion that statues are only material is presented. The continuity of the magical power of images in Byzantine culture is also touched upon.