Tuesday, May 1, 2012


A kouros is a lord.  In modern usage the word refers to those statues of young Greek men, life-sized or larger, put up by the ancients.  These young men, these kouroi, are portrayed nude and upright, shoulders back, sometimes stepping forward, and on their face the serene and confident smile of a young lord.  There are beautiful ones in the National Museum in Athens and on the island of Naxos there are two left abandoned in an ancient quarry.
    The young men all seem about the same age, around twenty, and in the full flower of youth and health, their body strong and supple, not yet hardened by years.  If some might remind you of the golden young Lord Apollo, it would be no accident.
    It would appear that these were placed over the grave of the man they are meant to represent, however old he may have been when he died, to remind those who came after what he had been like in those excellent years of his young manhood, when he held life so fine, a precious gift of the gods which, once bestowed, could be held fast in memory against the machinations of time and fate.

Downstairs from my room was the taverna.  On a cooling case, beside a display of wine bottles and a carving of some unrecognizable animal, was a framed photograph.  I recognized the man in the picture.  He was Patrone, my host, as a young man, not unhandsome, in an old-fashioned army uniform. 
    You were a soldier, I said.  Yes, he answered, a soldier.
    But it was sad for me to see Patrone as he was now  --  a dumpy old man with a dumpy old wife, and he part-paralyzed on one side  --  and Patrone then  --  a fine young man in the prime of health and youth, in his fresh new uniform and all the world before him.
    Had life been good or bad to Patrone, or was it simply as it was? Things are as they are, said one of the old Greeks, and will come out as they must.  So do I mourn Patrone for what he has become, or celebrate him for what he once was?  Mourning would be easy, but I think wrong. It is foolish to judge a life by what it looks like in the end, as we most look badly in the end.  So I ought be glad for Patrone and the blessings of life that I see in the photograph of that young man in an old-fashioned uniform, and choose to remember Patrone, a kouros.

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