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p322 Colossus

Article by Anthony Rich, Jun. B.A. of Caius College, Cambridge
on p322 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

COLOSSUS (κολοσσός). The origin of this word is not known, the suggestions of the grammarians being either ridiculous, or imperfect in point of etymology (Etym. Mag. p526.16, Festus, s.v.). It is, however, very ancient, probably of Ionic extraction, and rarely occurs in the Attic writers (Blomf. Gloss. ad Aesch. Agam. 406). It is used both by the Greeks and Romans to signify a statue larger than life (Hesych. s.v.; Aesch. Agam. 406; Schol. ad Juv. Sat. VIII.230), and thence a person of extraordinary stature is termed colosseros (Suet. Calig. 35);a and the architectural ornaments in the upper members of lofty buildings, which require to be of large dimensions in consequence of their remoteness, are termed colossicotera (κολοσσικώτερα, Vitruv. III.5,º compare Id. X.2º). Statues of this kind, simply colossal, but not enormously large, were too common among the Greeks to excite observation merely from their size, and are, therefore, rarely referred to as such; the word being more frequently applied to designate those figures of gigantic dimensions (moles statuarum, turribus pares, Plin. H. N. XXXIV.7 s18)which were first executed in Egypt, and afterwards in Greece and Italy.

Among the colossal statues of Greece, the most celebrated, according to Pliny, was the bronze colossus at Rhodes by Chares of Lindus, a pupil of Lysippus (See Dict. of G. and R. Biog. art. Chares). Pliny mentions another Greek colossus of Apollo, the work of Calamis, which cost 500 talents, and was twenty cubits high, in the city of Apollonia, whence it was transferred to the capitol by M. Lucullus; and also those of Jupiter and Hercules, at Tarentum, by Lysippus (Dict. of G. and R. Biog. art. Lysippus). To the list of Pliny must be added the more important colossal statues of Pheidias, the most beautiful of which were his chryselephantine statues of Zeus, at Olympia, and of Athena, in the Parthenon at Athens; the largest was his bronze statue of Athena Promachos, on the Acropolis.

Amongst the works of this description made expressly by or for the Romans, those most frequently alluded to are the following:—

1. A statue of Jupiter upon the capitol, made by order of Sp. Carvilius, from the armour of the Samnites, which was so large that it could be seen from the Alban mount (Plin. l.c.).

2. A bronze statue of Apollo at the Palatine library (Plin. l.c.), to which the bronze head now preserved in the capitol probably belonged.

3. A bronze statue of Augustus, in the forum which bore his name (Mart. Ep. VIII.44.7).

4. The colossus of Nero, which was executed by Zenodorus in marble, and therefore quoted by Pliny in proof that the art of casting metal was then lost. Its height was 110 or 120 feet (Plin. l.c.; Suet. Nero, 31). It was originally placed in the vestibule of the domus aurea (Mart. Spect. II.1, Ep. I.71.7; Dion Cass. LXVI.15) at the bottom of the Via Sacra, where the basement upon it stood is still to be seen, and from it the contiguous amphitheatre is supposed to have gained the name of "Colosseum."b Having suffered in the fire which destroyed the golden house, it was repaired by Vespasian, and by him converted into a statue of the sun (Hieronym. in Hab. c3; Suet. Vesp. 18; Plin. l.c.; compare Lamprid. Commod. 17; Dion Cass. LXXII.15). Twenty-four elephants were employed by Hadrian to remove it, when he was about to build the temple of Rome (Spart. Hadr. 19).

5. An equestrian statue of Domitian, of bronze gilt, which was placed in the centre of the forum (Stat. Sylv. I.1.1; Mart. Ep. I.71.6).c

Thayer's Notes:

a A misunderstanding of the passage, or, more likely, a bit of bad writing. Suetonius merely tells us about a particular man who was very tall and very good-looking, and had earned Colosseros as a nickname, from colossus and Eros the god of love. In sum, people called the guy "The Big Hunk."

b Our author treads warily, and he's right to do so. This is one of those things that we all know, and which just ain't so (probably). See Samuel Platner's note, and mine, to the article Amphitheatrum Flavium in his Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, and the further links there.

c not alluded to anywhere in ancient literature, and therefore omitted from this list — the contributors to Smith's Dictionary were classicists rather than antiquarians — the following at least should be mentioned, both in Rome: the colossal statue, said to be of Constantine, of which the (ugly) head and a hand are the only remains, in the courtyard of the Museo Capitolino; and the much better statue of the same emperor, found in the baths of the Quirinal and transferred by Pope Clement XII to the portico of St. John Lateran.

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