Milo of Croton was a powerful 6th Century athlete, having won the Olympics 6 times for his strength as a wrestler. As with any star in Greece, there were a plethora of legends about him. One story had him carrying a 4-year old bull on his shoulders before slaughtering and devouring him all in one day… Aristotle compared Milo to Heracles for his appetite: his daily diet was allegedly 20 lb of meat, 20 lb of bread, and eighteen pints of wine.
But it is Milo’s death which captivates most. His death was the story of pride: Well past his prime, the aged Milo decided to split a tree trunk he found already cleft. With his hand stuck in it, a pack of wolves devoured him. Modern literary references range from Rabelais to Shakespeare, all the way down to Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights when Catherine refers to Milo’s demise asking “Who is to separate us, pray? They’ll meet the fate of Milo!”
Finance Minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert authorised Pierre Puget (1620 – 1694), an academic sculptor, to use some marble that had been left in Toulon, and commissioned him to do a piece for Louis XIV. Milo wasn’t a particularly popular subject in 17th C French scupture, but here Puget made him one, replacing the wolves with this fierce-some lion. Having him about to take a big juicy bite out of Milo’s rear-end. A sassy man this Puget was, as the thread keeping Milo’s demise together is about how he was vanquished by his pride and vanity, trying — and failing — to defy age and the weakness that comes with it. His roar isn’t just a physical one from those painful claws, no. Human glory is ephemeral, folks, and Puget wants you, and more importantly, the King, to know it. Life spans were shorter than they are now, so Louis XIV’s 44 years did not make him a spring chicken!
Etienne-Maurice Falconet (1716 – 1791) took this sassy-ness one step further. Puget’s Milo at least has a small modicum of pride — standing, pushing the lion’s head away. Falconet tipped his hat to his elder by choosing this subject, but furthered Milo’s insult by making him a painful mess, a baroque basket case. He pits man against beast on equal footing, with Milo’s end clearly seconds away. This sculpture is small — .66m tall, .64m wide, .51m deep — and was the model which would gain Falconet entry to the French Academy (ten years later, in 1754). As it’s a small piece it’s tucked away at the end of the French sculpture wing, behind a series of rooms which run along rue de Rivoli. Quite different from Puget’s Milo, who stands smack dab in the middle of the Cour Puget, in the spotlight, where the noses of the public sully the windows on the street, looking into this Richelieu’s sculpture wing.
Now aren’t you glad you read this entry? These Milos could appear in all sorts of THATLous, from Power + Money (the Entrepreneur’s THATLou is Wed 25 April) to Animals in Art or Athlete’s THATLou. And now you’re all prepped for any bonus point questions which may arise, even if asked to produce a limerick!