Origin: prob. < Gr Myrōn
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Fifth century B.C.
The Greek sculptor Myron (active ca. 470-450 B.C.) was one of the most renowned sculptors of the early classical period.
Myron was born at Eleutherai on the Attic side of Mt. Kithairon, probably before 500 B.C. We do not know his father's name; his teacher is said by Pliny the Elder to have been Hageladas, the principal caster of monumental bronze statues at Argos about 500. Myron established no school, his only known pupil being his son Lykios. His period of major activity seems to have been during the quarter century following the decisive Greek victories over the Persians in 480-479.
Our knowledge of Myron's work comes from ancient literary sources, among the most important of which is Pliny. Pausanias, who traveled through Greece during the third quarter of the 2d century A.D., contributes additional important information about works of Myron still visible. Although Myron made at least one cult statue, an image of Hekate on Aegina, most of his recorded works, at least 21 of which are mentioned by classical authors, were votive in nature: dedications of victorious athletes and worshipers at sanctuaries. His statues are said to have been scattered in sanctuaries throughout the Greek world, from Sicily to Ionia, with a concentration on the Athenian Acropolis. As far as is known, Myron worked exclusively in bronze, with the exception of the Hekate, done in wood. He also fashioned vessels in metal, following a pattern of involvement in the minor arts common to sculptors in the 5th and 4th centuries B.C.
Of Myron's recorded works, there are two for which little or no doubt remains for identification through copies. The first is the famous Diskobolos, or Discus Thrower. Lucian's description of the statue, which depicts the midpoint of the youthful athlete's windup for the throw, is almost unanimously considered to refer to a statue of which several large-scale marble copies exist (for example, the Lancelotti statue and the copy from Castel Porziano, both in the Museo Nazionale Romano, Rome), as well as statuettes and depictions on gems. The composition, highly rhythmical as well as seemingly unstable, reflects an "experimental" spirit that runs through many other works of early classical sculpture, which explored many variations in poses of violent action and arrested movement. The Diskobolos is widely admired for its particular resolution of the exertion and instability of an instant of motion into a composition of unified balance and harmony. The statue is designed within a single plane, apparently meant to be seen from the sides only. Its date must be very near 450 B.C.; its subject and occasion for execution, most likely an athletic victory, remain unknown.
Also identified beyond reasonable doubt is a group of Athena and the satyr Marsyas, which stood on the Athenian Acropolis. Athena has thrown down the flutes, and Marsyas is about to pick them up. The principal copy of the Marsyas is in the Vatican Museums, Rome. The Athena has been recognized in a Roman statue in the Städtische Galerie, Frankfurt am Main. Details missing from the two copies can be seen on Athenian bronze coins struck under emperor Hadrian (A.D. 117-138) and an Attic red-figured oinochoe of the third quarter of the 5th century B.C. The composition, in which both figures move away from each other and the central element, the fateful flutes, is tense with drama and foreshadows the centripetal arrangement given to the contest of Athena and Poseidon in the west pediment of the Parthenon.
Myron's statues of athletes elicited much admiration in antiquity; among these, the statue of Ladas, an Olympic victor in the footrace, seems to have captured the fleetness of the runner, poised on tiptoe at the start of the race. No copies of this statue have been identified. Numerous scholarly efforts to attribute male heads of early classical style to Myron must remain tentative. Among his more ambitious compositions is the over-life-size group of three figures that stood in the Heraion at Samos; in Franz Willemsen's view (1965), it may represent the introduction of Herakles to Olympos.
Myron also was famous as a sculptor of animals; his Heifer on the Acropolis was particularly well known. That this statue, an appropriate votive offering, had widespread influence among his contemporaries and successors cannot be doubted; again, scholarly attempts to identify individual marble sculptures or bronze statuettes as copies of the Heifer cannot be definitely proved.
Ancient critical opinion held that Myron fell short of full classical perfection. Most modern scholars consider him to be the great experimental innovator of the early classical period ("Severe style").
Further Reading on Myron
For a discussion of the ancient sources on Myron see Jerome J. Pollitt, The Art of Greece, 1400-31 B.C. (1965). Scholarly discussions of Myron are found in Franz Willemsen's article "Myron" in the Encyclopedia of World Art, vol. 10 (1965); G.M.A. Richter, The Sculpture and Sculptors of the Greeks (4th ed. 1970); and B. S. Ridgway, The Severe Style in Greek Sculpture (1970). □