In the Archaic Period rich Greeks commissioned stone statues of naked men, the so-called kouroi, which were used to adorn the holy street in the north-eastern section of the Heraion of Samos. Some of these men were gigantic, towering four or five metres into the heavens. The Heraion was one of the most important shrines in antiquity – because the prospective consort of Zeus is believed to have come into the world at the site of this temple, under a willow on the bank of the rivulet Imbrasos.
The kouroi here were undoubtedly erected to honour Hera – often, the sponsors of the statues also came into the public eye because they had their names inscribed for posterity on the sculpture. One does not know whom the kouroi portray or what they mean. Archaeologists are unanimous in agreeing that they do not represent gods. And one can assume that the erection of such a statue enhanced the prestige of the sponsor. Perhaps the kouroi portray certain servants who were at the service of the gods or refer to the mythical ancestors of those who commissioned the statues. Their meaning will have revealed itself to old-time visitors to Heraion without explanation; for the spectators of today, though, their meaning has been lost. As a consequence, we are unaware of what we admire there. We observe, however, that these men are well groomed. They have their hair dressed in elegant locks and their pubis draped. On the other hand, they look as if the current has gone out of them. Happily smiling they stare stubbornly straight ahead, hold their arms out like frozen legs of lamb, and their shoulders are so straight that one can measure the space with them. It is only their feet that pretend to move a step. That they actually move is something one can hardly believe; yet, it is only on account of their feet that they belong to this world. While the bulk of the kouros is entirely mute in its unblemished beauty, its feet appear to us exceptionally as if they are indicating something, as if we sense a desire for a gesture in them. If the kouros were to begin to speak it would definitely be first with its feet. If even the slightest frisson of life were to infuse its leaden perfection, it would undoubtedly enter the stone from its feet. And, if the absolute absence that imbues the kouros could experience any sort of relativisation, then it would also originate in the feet. For, the kouros desists from any form of interaction with its environment; it wishes simply to be taken seriously – without throwing a glance at anything and without testing whether it is really seen. It is free, free from its environment, free from us – only its feet engage with us. In me too hides a kouros or, at least, the wish for an existence without bonds, without dependency. But even I cannot take my feet away for too long from the earth – they thus remind me that I am of some importance in this world and that I am of some meaning.
First Publication: 29-8-2013