Monday, January 17, 2011

The Colossi of Memnon? When are graffiti not graffiti?

A Don's Life (Mary Beard)

For me these statues are important because they were a Roman tourist attraction -- and it is fun to be gawping at monuments that Germanicus or Hadrian gawped at a couple of thousand years ago. Not exactly for the same reasons, it must be allowed. One of the colossi was especially renowned in the early Roman empire because, thanks to some damage (possibly in an earthquake in the first century BC), the effect of the stone warming up in the morning made the statue emit a strange sound like singing. It the Romans said that it was not Amenhotep at all, but an image of the hero Memnon, son of Dawn...who miraculously sang to greet his mother each morning. Or, he sang most mornings; there were some unlucky visitors who didn,t hear the singing.

The Romans loved the sound and also finished it off. The statue was repaired in the second century and never sang again.

Predictably perhaps, the tourist guides here (who have never heard of Memnon) tell a brave new version of the story... that they were believed to be statues of AGAmemnon who wept at dawn. In such ways new myths are born.

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