a discus thrower
a statue of a discus thrower
The Discobolus of Myron ("discus thrower" Greek Δισκοβόλος, "Diskobolos") is a famous Roman marble copy of a lost Greek bronze original, completed during the zenith of the classical period between 460-450 BC. A discus thrower is depicted about to release his throw. The moment captured in the statue is an example of rhythmos, harmony and balance. Myron is often credited as being the first sculpture to master this style. Naturally, as always in Greek athletics, the Discobolus is completely nude. His pose is said to be unnatural to a human, and today considered a rather inefficient way to throw the discus. Also there is very little emotion shown in the discus thrower's face. The other trademark of Myron depicted in this sculpture is how well the body is proportioned, the symmetria. The Diskobolus Palombara stands at 1.55 meters tall (5 feet, 1 inch).
An explanation for his inefficient discus throwing could be that the ancient Olympic sportsmen had a set rotation of three quarters before the discus was thrown. This rotation could well have been a deliberate handicap to make the sport more difficult. The lack of symmetry in this sculpture is an example of the advancement of Classical sculpture from Archaic. The torso shows no strain, however, even though the limbs are outflung.
Literary accountMyron's Discobolus was long known from descriptions:
- ''"When you came in the hall," he said, "didn't you notice a totally gorgeous statue up there, by Demetrios the portraitist?" "Surely you don't mean the discus-thrower," said I, "the one bent over into the throwing-position, with his head turned back to the hand that holds the discus, and the opposite knee slightly flexed, like one who will spring up again after the throw?"
- "Not that one," he said, "that's one of Myron's works, that Diskobolos you speak of..." (Lucian of Samosata, Philopseudes'' c. 18)
Principal exampleFollowing its discovery in 1781, at a Roman property of the Massimo family, the Villa Palombara on the Esquiline Hill, it was initially restored by Giuseppe Angelini, and the Massimi installed it initially in their Palazzo Massimo alle Colonne then at Palazzo Lancelotti. The Italian archeologist Carlo Fea identified the sculpture as a copy from the original of Myron. It was instantly famous, though the Massimo jealously guarded access to it (Haskell and Penny 1981:200).
Prior to this statue's discovery the term Discobolus had been applied in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to a standing figure holding a discus, a Discophoros, which Ennio Quirino Visconti identified as the Discobolus of Naukydes of Argos, mentioned by Pliny (Haskell and Penny 1981:200).
In 1937 Adolf Hitler negotiated to buy it, and eventually succeeded in 1938, when Galeazzo Ciano, Minister of Foreign Affairs, sold it to him for five million lire, over the protests of Giuseppe Bottai, Minister of Education, and the scholarly community. It was shipped by rail to Munich and displayed in the Glyptothek; it was returned in 1948. It is now in the National Museum of Rome.
Townley's DiscobolusAfter the discovery of the Discobolus Palombara a second notable Discobolus was excavated, at Hadrian's Villa in 1790, and was purchased by the English antiquary and art dealer established in Rome, Thomas Jenkins, at public auction in 1792. (Another example, also found at Tivoli at this date, was acquired by the Vatican Museums.) The English connoisseur Charles Townley paid him £400 for the statue, which arrived at the semi-public gallery Townley commissioned in Park Street, London, in 1794. The head was wrongly restored, as Richard Payne Knight pointed out, but Townley was convinced his was the original and better copy.
It was bought for the British Museum, with the rest of Townley's marbles, in July 1805 (illustration, left).
Other copiesOther Roman copies in marble have been recovered, and torsoes that were already known in the seventeenth century but that had been wrongly restored and completed, have been identified as further repetitions after Myron's model. For one such example, in the early eighteenth century, Pierre-Étienne Monnot restored a torso now recognized as an example of Myron's Discobolus as a Wounded Gladiator who supports himself on his arm as he sinks to the ground; the completed sculpture was donated before 1734 by Pope Clement XII to the Capitoline Museums, where it remains.
Yet another copy was discovered in 1906 in the ruins of a Roman villa at Tor Paterna in the royal estate of Castel Porziana, now also in the Museo Nazionale Romano.
- Francis Haskell and Nicholas Penny, 1981. Taste and the Antique: the Lure of Classical Sculpture 1500-1900 (Yale University Press) Cat. no.32.
- Skulpturhalle, Basel (German)
discobolus in German: Diskobolos
discobolus in Spanish: Discóbolo de Mirón
discobolus in French: Discobole
discobolus in Hebrew: זורק הדיסקוס
discobolus in Hungarian: Düszkobolosz
discobolus in Italian: Discobolo
discobolus in Dutch: Discuswerper
discobolus in Polish: Dyskobol
discobolus in Portuguese: Discóbolo