Monday, June 13, 2016

A sketch based on Canova's statue

This sketch (linked above, at, one of several which I made last year and posted to Flickr, is based on Canova's statue of Theseus after he has killed the Minotaur (Victoria and Albert Museum). Several of the sketches reflect Canova's work; others reverse it, making the Minotaur the victor. Theseus is a typical "hero"--strong, blessed by the gods, irresistible to women. The Minotaur is more conflicted. Remember the old adage--the victor writes the history. What if, a la the Borges story "The house of Asterion" (La casa de Asterion), the truth was rather different? What if the Minotaur were not a monster? What if he were a persecuted being, afflicted for his "difference"?

One thing which Canova makes clear--and something that puts me squarely in the Minotaur's court--is reflected in my sketch: Theseus is a slick-limbed, slick-torsoed pretty boy, exactly like you find in Hollywood movies. The Minotaur, on the other hand, is "bestial"--that is, he looks more like a "real man," with hair on his chest and in his armpits.  Granted that hair is more difficult for a sculptor to carve than smooth curves and planes, there is still an animosity at work here, an animus against non-androgyny: sculptors all the way back to Ancient Greece and Egypt don't mind taking the trouble to carve hair on the head, or beards, or even pubic hair; they don't mind carving fur and feathers and scales on animals. But normal masculine body hair is ignored in almost every case. And don't forget the ancient epic of Gilgamesh--perhaps the very oldest story we have: the natural man Enkidu, who becomes Gilgamesh's alter ego and foster-brother, is originally covered in hair like the animals he lives among and that hair must be shorn so that he can join civilized society. What about the story of the enmity of Esau and Jacob? Esau, the hairy; Jacob, the smooth, the clever. And Jacob "wins", despite their father Isaac's preference for Esau, the elder of the two. And even Isaac, who dared to prefer the more "bestial" son, is sort of the lost patriarch of the Hebrew Bible. Jacob becomes Israel and gives his name to his people. Abraham is the father of the faithful. Isaac, not so big a deal.

Why do I care about any of this? Well, I could make an argument simply for reality and accuracy over "style," but it's also true that I'm a hairy guy. I don't like hairy guys being treated like some kind of aberration or prehistoric atavistic embarrassment or, even, examples of ugliness or brutality. Maybe this is a part of the reason for my novels of the Maltese werewolves (see my website at who exult in their "animal" heritage and embrace it. Hair is a part of being mammal, it's a source of sensitivity and protection from the weather, it's an adornment. Are all men hairy? No. But those of us who are needn't be treated like something malformed. My message to all of my hairy brothers: embrace the hair! Start a Neanderthal society! Enjoy what the gods have given you. And if you're not hairy--that's fine too. It's the way you were genetically encoded. But please don't "do a Canova" and turn your nose up at the rest of us.

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