Sunday, June 25, 2006

Sculptural Love and Hermetic Space:Antinous.

In his early, but fascinatingly complex poem Il Penseroso, Milton’s persona views Divine Melancholy. She is not the dark spirit commonly described by writers on the four humours, but a humanistic conception, a medial divinity (like the Holy Ghost) who lifts the individual, in an intellectual frenzy, towards God. As Melancholia appears, Milton writes:

Thy rapt soul sitting in thine eyes:
There held in holy passion still,
Forget thyself to marble…

Echoing Browne, Chapman, Tomkins, and Shakespeare, Milton outdoes them all with a conceit whereby the divine soul is caught between active rapture and passive passion, and in a moment of stasis becomes “marble”, a monument enduring time. There is something of this hermetic mood in the current exhibition “Antinous: the face of the Antique” at the Henry Moore Institute. In a perfectly white and silent space (two galleries and one alcove), a visitor is faced with images that are divinely melancholic. They express the rapture that Hadrian felt for his beloved Antinous. Heads of shimmering Luna marble demand that they be read as expressions of the passion between a mid-forty year old Emperor and a late teenage man. Their beauty—enhanced by the pure and sealed space in which they appear—are memorials to loss and go beyond it towards Beauty. Before his mysterious drowning in the Nile, Antinous became a type for Roman and Greek ideals of beauty, then faded from memory. Wilde, in precious prose, could speculate on Antinous whilst dreaming of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, but in fact, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton and the mythologizing tradition did not know of Antinous. Encountering the beautiful images of Antinous, still fresh and new, today, says something about the direction which Hermeticism has taken. Kathleen Raine, in an early editorial for Temenos, a journal devoted to the Spirit and the Arts, argued that a New Age drawn towards magic and mysticism without any real appreciation of Imagination and its education through artistic traditions inevitably goes down a wrong spiritual path. And how right her statement seemed to be when looking at an image of Antinous in the Henry Moore Institute whilst simultaneously being aware of New Age nonsense which believes that Antinous is secretly Anti-Nous, an astrological mantra expressing the gay generative sexual force. Hermeticism has always been about Imagination and an ability to feel and connect to the cosmos: the mystery of the image in mind and in nature and in language. It is about imaginative encounters, not dull de-coding and en-coding and the engendering of abstruse axioms. The beautiful head of Antinous as Egyptian God, in this exhibition, exists to rebuke an Age which believes that badly written mystical poetry and ritual babelism will save the human spirit.


Onyeka George Nwelue said...

Well. Thank you for your prophesy of doom which you passed on my blog. I have no power that I am even about to loose.

I will also return to read your posts, because my brain is hurting now.

Id it is said...

Very interesting. I had come across Antinous in several of my readings but seldom had I dwelled on what he brought into the particular piece of art, insignificant though his part.

However,coming to the 'beautiful head of Antinous', I think it exists not 'to rebuke' but because it is beautiful; it's an end in itself.

eshuneutics said...

Thanks for your meditation OGN. I hope these "weird" posts will make you laugh. Probably, some of my posts should carry a headache warning.

eshuneutics said...

Yes, id it is, you are right. What I meant was that the work of art speaks silently and its silence says more than a lot of the magical nonsense written about Antinous.
But what you describe is true: the various heads, well the best ones, talk about themselves. Human beauty becomes artistic Beauty and Beauty gives a feel for the human that inspired them. The magic is in the Beauty.