Wednesday, June 01, 2011
My First Love
It is said one never forgets one's first love. This may, on several levels, be the story of mine.
For those new to this blog, or to my story, let me back up a bit.
When I was three my father taught me to read phonetically using alphabet blocks. Pretty impressive for someone who had only a high school education! By the time I was five I was reading comic books, including every last word of the advertisements, copyrights, and legal notices. I consumed words wherever I could find them.
It came as a shock to my parents when Miss Barbara Hawkins, my kindergarten teacher at Jefferson Elementary School, said that I could not read. The problem was that I could not see the blackboard and since age five I have worn very strong lenses.
Words seemed magical to me and still do. I marvel at human communication. Later on Mother took me regularly (every week, I think) to the Fresno County Library (Main Branch) downtown. It was only a one mile walk from our house. I would cart home five to seven books, devour them, and return for more. Adventure tales, mythology, science, mathematics, whatever caught my interest. I was, and remain, voracious for knowledge.
There were more than books to intrigue me. I could see Armenian-language newspapers and see the elders who had escaped the genocide reading them and speaking this exotic language. When the new Main Library was built (fairly early on in my reading career), there were the brilliant enameled panels of the Dewey Decimal mural. There was a small statue of a cowboy on a horse, probably a replica of a Remington, I'm not sure.
And there was a small plaster replica of the Dying Gaul.
This is a photo I took on my last visit to Fresno.
I knew better than to stare at a representation of a naked man, even though I had not yet heard of "the love that dare not speak its name." But this statue was a magnet. I found excuses to walk by it, never staring but stealing glances. He was beautiful. He was exciting. He was forbidden.
And so this statue formed and informed my idea of masculine power and pathos, of the desirable and forbidden. Though I had no idea about more than the merest mechanics of reproductive heterosexual congress and would not know what to do with a man, or another boy, if I had one, I knew I was queer, different. And that this could not be discussed with anyone.
I learned that he was not a Gaul from modern France but from Galatia, an earlier homeland of the Celts. I assumed his hair was a dirty blond. My weakness for young men (not twinks but formed men, the strong warrior type) with blond mustaches probably stems from my attraction to this statue. (My ex has teased me on many occasions about me and "blond Nazis.")
With this background you will understand why I have shared pretty much all of our experience of the Capitoline Museums except this one work that I have saved for last. The original is in the Palazzo Nuovo, the centerpiece of one of the first rooms we visited in that building.
United at last. Well, not exactly. I wish I had taken off the silly cap that shielded me from the hot Roman sun as I do not like this photo but here I am with the first "man" ever loved. The plaster replica, of course, lacks the grandeur and the details that make this such a famous work of art. Seeing it at last was a moving experience on many levels.
The museum guide says this is, perhaps, the most famous sculpture in the entire collection. The date is uncertain.
In this detail of his head you can see the mustache and disordered locks and the torc about his neck that identify him as a Celt. (The tribe that features prominently in the opening books of my fiction series are modeled on Teutonic tribes, with Scandinavian sounding names, and their chiefs are identified by a golden torc. An honorary one is granted to the epic hero of that tale. I believe I wept writing the scene where it is given to him. Care to speculate on the subconscious undertones there?)
He reclines on his shield. At his feet is his horn and by his right hand rest his sword and sword belt. The original does not have a fig leaf. Celtic warriors fought naked.
The composition is amazing from any and all angles. Here you can see the reverse S-curve of his torso and left leg. As he leans upon his right arm his left buttock is raised slightly off the ground, the final expression of energy before he collapses.
The sword seems more prominent from this angle than it did from the front, I believe because of the dramatic way the light falls upon it. The wrinkles on the sole of his right foot convey verisimilitude.
The fatal wound is quite evident on his right side, a sharp thrust into his chest. The sculptor captures a warrior's final moments.
The drops of blood are reminiscent of Hispanic depictions of Christ crucified with the blood dramatically evident. I had not remembered them from the plaster replica and was on the verge of tears as I noticed them.
For all the erotic energy this statue has had for me since boyhood, there is much more. I think it is simply one of the most amazing compositions of the human form ever created. It is also eloquent in capturing a dramatic moment without excessive sentiment.
Now that I am much older, I experienced new emotions. A profound desire to simply hold him welled up within me. He represents the tragedy of young life lost. He appears to die alone on the battlefield. I do not want him to be alone, abandoned. I cannot prevent his death or even delay it but I want him to be held as he dies. I want that for all who die alone. When I see military men and women my heart yearns for them to return safely lest they suffer the fate of the Dying Gaul. I cannot keep them safe and I won't be with any who fall, but somehow my heart wishes I could.
And so, my friends, here are not quite half the photos I took of him and the story behind why I find this statue so extraordinary - so powerful in my own personal journey. He is linked with my own emerging self-awareness and psychosexual identity and I have to admit: If any single man out there resembles him and should happen to smile affectionately at me, I'd still melt.
Coming up next: The Imperial Fora