Statue of a Victorious Youth / Greek

Statue of a Victorious Youth (The Getty Bronze), 300–100 B.C., Greek. Bronze with inlaid copper, 59 5/8 in. high. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 77.AB.30

The only way for us to become great or, if this be possible, inimitable, is to imitate the ancients.” —Johann Joachim Winckelmann

“Even the beautiful must perish!” —Friedrich Schiller

Statue of a Victorious Youth stands proudly on display at the Getty Villa. The Greek sculpture—also known as the Getty Bronze and the Victorious Youth—was discovered in 1964 by fishermen in the Adriatic Sea.

The Victorious Youth is a young athlete, just crowned in the aftermath of a competition. He emphatically points to the wreath on his head with his right hand, while his left arm may once have cradled a palm branch, a symbol of victory. His strong leg muscles indicate that he is a runner, but his cavalier attitude suggests he is not a professional athlete but a nobleman participating in the races.

Scholars have strained to determine the athlete’s identify. Some have linked him to historic figures such as Demetrios Poliorketes or Seleukos Nikator. Others believe him to be the mythological hero Herakles or the physical embodiment of Agon—victory in athletic competition.

One thing is certain: the left side of the statue is particularly flat, suggesting that the youth was originally joined by another figure. It could have been a proud father, celebrating his son’s success, or the referee involved in the moment of coronation.

The sculptor likely wanted to create a figurative model to represent the new generation of victorious condottieri, or military leaders, who, led by Alexander the Great, conquered Greece and the eastern Mediterranean.

Detail of the face and shoulders of the Statue of a Victorious Youth / Greek

My poem is triggered by the sense of death, fragility, and vacuity that even our masterpieces, which we perceive as eternal, cannot escape. The uncertainty of the statue’s attribution, the uncertain nature of the athlete’s identity, and the disfigured, fragmentary condition of the bronze inspire me to speak of the transience of life, the impossibility of every real victory, and the meaning of time for human beings.

“The Victorious Athlete”

where now
is your
garland of olive?
your rapid
where the judge
who placed
on your head
the precious wreath?
we are not even
given to know
who you are
your haughty yearning
is lost in the void
the contest is deserted
the shouts and the glory
far away
all is calm
icy silence
cold quiet
there where you are
all is vain
and all disappears
and you too
like us
will not be able
to save yourself
from that darkness
that abyss
where there is no more
past or future
where there will be no more
possible memory of man.

Poem by Gabriele Tinti, read by actor Robert Davi.

This post is part of the series #GettyInspired, conversations with creative people inspired by the Getty.
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