Friday, July 18, 2008
Horse-Crazy Girls in Ancient History
I discovered this Amazon on Horseback at Indiana University's Art Museum, special exhibit on horses in classical antiquity. The terracotta statue has never been fully 'published' - which for works of ancient art means a full scholarly article written about it and official photos taken by people who know what they are doing and don't reflect themselves and their camera in the pictures! It is part of IU's permanent collection, and I fell in love it with it on sight. If you click on the picture it will enlarge so you can see details.
Amazons! Great topic for mythology professors like me: women warriors who loved their horses and had horse-related names like Hippodameia ("tamer of horses") and Hippolyte ("freer of horses"). Maybe they were based on some historical reality, maybe they were entirely mythical, but the image of a wild woman on horseback set the ancient imagination on fire.
This Amazon is from southern Italy, 3rd century B.C. and horse people: isn't she doing a levade? Notice the parallel forelegs, the rider's balanced posture and leg back as if to cue, this does not look like a rear but something more requested and controlled.
Here's levade rendered in a digital painting by Stacey Meyer:
What do you think? I fully believe that the classical moves of dressage had ancient roots. I'm working on an article on Xenophon's treatise "On Horsemanship", trying to fill out the view of equine psychology that it presents, and the deeper I get into it the more I believe that an ancient form of dressage was developed for Greek war horses and had a practical side as well as the beautiful goal: "Nothing beautiful can be forced", Xenophon wrote. So true. So that's a little about my 'day job' and you see I manage to work horses into that area too!