Friday, February 20, 2009

The Colossus of Rhodes

The Colossus of Rhodes was a statue of the Greek god Helios, erected on the Greek island of Rhodes by Chares of Lindos between 292 and 280 BC. It is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Before its destruction, the Colossus of Rhodes stood over 30 meters (107 ft) high, making it one of the tallest statues of the ancient world.

Alexander the Great of Macedonia died at an early age in 323 BC without having had time to put into place any plans for his succession. Fighting broke out among his generals, the Diadochi, with four of them eventually dividing up much of his empire in the Mediterranean area. During the fighting, Rhodes had sided with Ptolemy, and when Ptolemy eventually took control of Egypt, Rhodes and Ptolemaic Egypt formed an alliance which controlled much of the trade in the eastern Mediterranean.

Antigonus I Monophthalmus was upset by this turn of events. In 305 BC he had his son Demetrius Poliorcetes, also a general, invade Rhodes with an army of 40,000; however, the city was well defended, and Demetrius—whose name "Poliorcetes" signifies the "besieger of cities"—had to start construction of a number of massive siege towers in order to gain access to the walls. The first was mounted on six ships, but these capsized in a storm before they could be used. He tried again with a larger, land-based tower named Helepolis, but the Rhodian defenders stopped this by flooding the land in front of the walls so that the rolling tower could not move.

In 304 BC a relief force of ships sent by Ptolemy arrived, and Demetrius's army abandoned the siege, leaving most of their siege equipment. To celebrate their victory, the Rhodians sold the equipment left behind for 300 talents (roughly US$360 million in today's money) and decided to use the money to build a colossal statue of their patron god, Helios. Construction was left to the direction of Chares, a native of Lindos in Rhodes, who had been involved with large-scale statues before. His teacher, the sculptor Lysippos, had constructed a 22 meter (70 ft) high bronze statue of Zeus at Tarentum.

The statue stood for only 56 years until Rhodes was hit by an earthquake in 226 BC. The statue snapped at the knees and fell over on to the land. Ptolemy III offered to pay for the reconstruction of the statue, but the oracle of Delphi made the Rhodians afraid that they had offended Helios, and they declined to rebuild it. The remains lay on the ground as described by Strabo for over 800 years, and even broken, they were so impressive that many traveled to see them. Pliny the Elder remarked that few people could wrap their arms around the fallen thumb and that each of its fingers was larger than most statues.

In 654, an Arab force under Muslim caliph Muawiyah I captured Rhodes, and according to the chronicler Theophanes the Confessor, the remains were sold to a "Jewish merchant of Edessa". The buyer had the statue broken down, and transported the bronze scrap on the backs of 900 camels to his home. There is compelling evidence, however, that all traces of the Colossus had actually disappeared long before the Arab invasion. Theophanes is the sole source of this story to which all other sources can be traced. The stereotypical Arab destruction and the purported sale to a Jew probably originated as a powerful metaphor for Nebuchadnezzar's dream of the destruction of a great and awesome statue, and would have been understood by any seventh century monk as evidence for the coming apocalypse. The same story is recorded by Barhebraeus, writing in syriac in the 13th century in Edessa (see E.A. Wallis Budge, The Chronography of Gregory Abu'l-Faraj, vol I, p. 98, APA - Philo Press, Amsterdam, 1932): (After the Arab pillage of Rhodes) "And a great number of men hauled on strong ropes which were tied round the brass Colossus which was in the city and pulled it down. And they weighed from it three thousand loads of Corinthian brass, and they sold it to a certain Jew from Emesa" (that is the Syrian city of Homs).

There has been much debate as to whether to rebuild the Colossus. Those in favor say it would boost tourism in Rhodes greatly, but those against construction say it would cost too large an amount (over 100 million euro). This idea has been revived many times since it was first proposed in 1970 but, due to lack of funding, work has not yet started.

In November 2008, it was announced that the Colossus of Rhodes was to be rebuilt. According to Dr. Dimitris Koutoulas, who is heading the project in Greece, rather than reproducing the original Colossus, the new structure will be a, "highly, highly innovative light sculpture, one that will stand between 60 and 100 metres tall so that people can physically enter it." The project is expected to cost up to €200m which will be provided by international donors and the German artist Gert Hof. The new Colossus will adorn an outer pier in the harbour area of Rhodes, where it will be visible to passing ships. Koutoulas said, "Although we are still at the drawing board stage, Gert Hof's plan is to make it the world's largest light installation, a structure that has never before been seen in any place of the world."

... wikipedia

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