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  • Andre Lamartin


This is my favorite marble sculpture on display at the British Museum. It is not famous as the Rosetta Stone discovered during the Napoleonic Wars, the Lewis Chessmen supposedly featured in the Harry Potter films, the Elgin marbles extracted from the Parthenon located on the Greek Acropolis, nor the colossal head of the Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep III. In fact, most visitors to the British Museum would be hard pressed to remember having seen this piece.

This is the sculpture of Thalia, one of the muses of Apollo, dedicated to the arts and sciences and dating back to the 2nd century AD. It was discovered in the ruins of a public bath in the city of Ostia, one of the poorest cities of the ancient Roman Empire. Roman poets of the time described Thalia as being simple and humble, but also graceful and tender.

In other words, she was beautiful, but simple, a seemingly paradoxical combination that appeals to my minimalist inclinations. She carries a shepherd’s staff, revealing her humble connections to the countryside and wears a simple garment that accentuates the alluring beauty of her physique without calling too much attention to the dress itself. Her posture is dignifying and her facial expression depicts the calm and placidness of being unafraid to stand before the world for her convictions, despite her humble origins.

This is what I like the most about this sculpture. There is no special wing of the museum devoted to it, nor is it shown in any especial display. In fact, it is almost hidden in the vast, mazelike array of chambers of the British Museum. However, it serves as a reminder that beauty, simplicity and humility can always go hand in hand and that they can be found where we least expect, even in the most ordinary of places, even in a public bath in one of the poorest cities of the Roman Empire, even in a nondescript manger in the city of Bethlehem.

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