Friday, March 05, 2004

Sculpting Cleisthenes - Democracy Personified

Columbus, Ohio artist and sculptor Anna Christoforidis has been given a daunting assignment. Aristotle Hutras, a proud Greek-American who has spent much of his adult life around the Ohio Statehouse was watching a PBS documentary on the early Greeks featuring Cleisthenes and decided that this relatively unknown founder of democracy should be immortalized in a sculpture enshrined at the local statehouse.

Hutras contacted Christoforidis about "his Cleisthenes Project". But, upon telephoning Athens, Christoforidis learned that there were no portraits or busts of Cleisthenes on record in the ancient collections. She called art historians she knew around the world. No images to be found.

Jim McGlew, a professor of classical studies at Iowa State University and a specialist in ancient Greek democracy, was not surprised to hear Cleisthenes had never been memorialized in art.

"Cleisthenes' fundamental aim was to deny his personal existence. He taught people that through their interconnections and their daily lives, and who they were, that they really were the demos, which is where the word democracy comes from," said McGlew, author of "Tyranny and Political Culture in Ancient Greece."

So, Christoforidis envisioned an Everyman, placed in the dress and artistic style of his period, the late 6th century B.C. - and looking distinctly Greek. She began to sculpt democracy personified, she said, an image of stability and permanence with touches of personality lent by her four sons - one each modeling the eyes, ears, nose and lips.