Making Room For a Colossus

Before I talk about what inspired the title of this message, here’s an update on Tropical Storm Fay, as I’ve been giving you all week.  It is now moving west at 5 MPH, with wind speeds of 45 MPH.  Yesterday evening it came ashore in Flagler County, the eye was over Gainesville this morning, and now it’s over Levy County on the Gulf Coast.  Rain is still being dumped on the Orlando area, and it looks like Lindy’s part of Georgia is getting brushed by the edge of the storm.

Now on to the topic.  When I wrote my history papers, would you believe I left out one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Colossus of Rhodes?  Maybe it is because of the location of Rhodes; that island could fit either into a discussion of European history or a discussion of Middle Eastern history, so I forgot to include it in both.  Actually, I did mention Rhodes a bit in Chapter 6 of the Middle Eastern history, when it sided with the Romans against the Seleucids, so today I put the Colossus there as a footnote.  Here it is:

2.  Demetrius left his military equipment behind on Rhodes, and after the war the Rhodians used it to build one of the wonders of the ancient world, a statue of the sun-god Helios at least a hundred feet high, known as the Colossus of Rhodes. Either they sold the weapons and used the money to finance construction, or they melted down the bronze and iron to use in the project; the huge siege towers of Demetrius probably came in handy as makeshift cranes. It was finished in 280 B.C., but it stood complete for only fifty-four years, before an earthquake knocked it down. The pieces lay where they fell for the next nine hundred years, being too large to easily move. In the first century A.D., Pliny the Elder claimed that few people could wrap their arms around the fallen thumb and that each of its fingers was larger than most statues. Finally in 654 or 672 A.D., the Arabs briefly captured Rhodes in a raid, and their naval commander, Muawiya (see Chapter 9), sold the pieces for scrap; it reportedly took 900 camels to haul them away.

Most pictures of the Colossus show it straddling the entrance to the harbor, so that ships going in and out would have had to sail between its legs. Don’t believe them. First, all such artist’s conceptions look undignified, and can you imagine how embarrassing it would have been if a ship with an exceptionally tall mast “goosed” the statue? Second, the harbor entrance would have been blocked during construction. Third, spreading the bronze legs like a tall bridge or arch probably would have caused a statue of that size to collapse under its own weight. Fourth, the harbor entrance would have been blocked again after the Colossus fell. It makes much more sense to have the Colossus standing on one side of the harbor with its legs together, like today’s Statue of Liberty.

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