The Aesthetics I students were reading a portion of Vitruvius recently, the Roman authority on architecture. His Ten Books on Architecture has influenced building and design for nearly 2,000 years. Vitruvius argued that only a well-rounded, well-educated man would make a good builder. He had to be able to work with his hands, but also know the grand scope of the project. He needed to know the philosophers, music, geometry, medicine, and history, as all these disciplines impacted building.
Vitruvius suggested the story of the caryatids as a worthy example of history influencing building. A caryatid is a column carved in the form of a woman. Greek caryatids are very striking, and their beauty and mystery have entranced tourists for centuries. The women essentially hold up the front pediment (the triangular roof) of the temples where they appear. Even weathered and missing arms, the carved statues stand perpetually upright, graceful in draped tunics or chitons.
I always thought the caryatids must honor the women of Athens, or the goddess Athena and her attendants. Vitruvius has corrected me, however. He explains that the city of Caryae aligned itself with the Persians against their fellow Greeks, and when the Greeks defeated the Persians, they paid back Caryae for their treachery by killing all the men and carrying the women off as slaves. Adding to the disgrace, the married women were not permitted to change their chitons, which were a symbol of their married status.
To immortalize the shame of the city of Caryae, Greek temple builders carved the caryatids, who eternally bear the weight of the temple and the disgrace of their people. Even the carved chitons add to their humiliation. Vitruvius thought a good knowledge of history would prevent misunderstanding. Indeed!
What I thought was honoring was dishonoring! It reminded me of the game with black and white pieces called Reversi. (One player tries to capture pieces and flip them all to his color, but his opponent might reverse them back on the next play).
Fortunately, I have been caught up in the greatest reversi of all time, the very thing meant to be dishonoring, which turns out to be honoring! I speak of the humble arrival of the Messiah, who after ministering to hurting humanity, was made to suffer and die, bearing our own shame and disgrace. He was punished for our treachery.
However, the gospel, which Pastor York speaks of in this journal, is the greatest and most joyous reversal of all! Sinners made holy, enemies made heirs, the lost found, the dead made alive.
Merry Christmas to you as you reflect on our great Savior, who didn’t immortalize our dishonor, but immortalizes our honor, in Him! •