Inspired by the telamon by Elizabeth Hawksley
In the 5-6th century B.C., the Greeks of Magna Graecia built a line of impressive temples just outside the city of Akragas (modern Agrigento) inSicily. The largest of all is the temple to Olympian Zeus, and its upper floor was supported by thirty-eight enormous telamones, each over 25 feet tall. Telamones are the male equivalent of caryatids, those draped female figures who masquerade as columns and hold up roofs, the most famous being the caryatids which support the Parthenon.
Telamon is mentioned in Homer’s Iliad as the father of the Greek hero, the greater Ajax. His name means ‘support’ or ‘bearer’ and this is what he does in the temple ofOlympian Zeus. The telemones (plural) were made in sections and it appears that, after two and a half thousand years of weathering, they were not at first recognized for what they were when they lay scattered on the ground after the temple was destroyed by a massive earthquake in 1401.
However, once recognized, one was removed to the museum at Agrigento and erected in a specially built room. You can see the height by the woman standing by his feet. Note how small the feet are compared with his huge head and arms – an optical trick to make the figure appear in proportion when viewed from the ground. Recently, another telamon has been recognized and reassembled on the ground beside the fallen temple.
I’m writing about telamones because I want to share my awe. I just stood, jaw-dropped, staring at it like a Liliputian on first sighting Gulliver. I felt that such a gigantic figure, so battered but still recognizable, must have a story. Who was he? Why was he doomed to support the temple for all eternity? Would it be dangerous to rescue him? I wanted to know.