Sunday, August 08, 2010

Notes for a Commonplace Book (6)

According to several ancient accounts, in a temple on a remote peninsula on the Gulf of Messenia there once stood a statue that possessed the curious property of displaying more than one likeness depending on the vantage point of the viewer. Approached from the west, it bore the appearance of a girl entering the first flower of womanhood; seen from a few steps to the north, an indomitable warrior suddenly came into view; and so on as one proceeded around to the east: here a tyrant scowled severely down, only to be supplanted by a weathered crone with weary eyes — the authorities part company on exactly how many figures there were in all. The transformation from one likeness to the next was instantaneous and absolute, and no matter how closely one examined the contours of the stone it was impossible to determine through what means the illusion was effected.

Pausanias, who claims to have visited the site, reports that the statue sustained minor damage in an earthquake and thereafter lost its remarkable qualities, but he neglects to say which of its various forms — if any — was left frozen in the marble thereafter. The ruins of the temple have not been identified.

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