A while back now, I watched a documentary hosted by Natalie Haynes, set at The British Museum, featuring an exhibition which was then new.
One item in particular which has stuck with me from that exhibition was an absolutely tiny bronze figurine. I think one of the reasons that this has remained in my head so prominently, is because it is so unlike other Greek artefacts which I like. I love vases, yes, but I also really love sculpture, usually huge sculptures or architectural sculptures, like the Gigantomachy friezes on the Great Altar at Pergamum, or the Painonios Nike on its triangular pediment. But this figurine is not grand, it’s just a tiny little thing. And really a rather ugly one at that.
The figurine depicts Ajax, the famous warrior from the Trojan War – Ajax, stronger than all Greece (like the cleaning product, y’know) – in the moment just before he kills himself. The moment is obviously incredibly poignant. He is about to kill himself because he lost a funeral race after slipping on manure, which wounded his pride to unbearable levels.
The figurine is particularly poignant because it is so crudely carved. It’s really barely human in form. It is also rather phallic, with it’s actual phallus extremely exaggerated. It is almost as if the figurine strips away all the grandeur associated with heroes, leaving Ajax with pure, unadulterated emotion, shown to us in an incredibly basic, instinctual manner. It also draws focus onto his sword – the sword intended for his enemies.
In this way, the figurine really is rather special.