How are Rodin's "The Thinker" and Myron's "Discus Thrower" similar and different?

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It is very interesting to compare Rodin's The Thinker and Myron's Discus Thrower. Despite being separated by over two thousand years, they have a number of similarities. First of all, they both depict a nude male figure (Greek athletes were almost always portrayed in the nude) in the middle of...

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It is very interesting to compare Rodin's The Thinker and Myron's Discus Thrower. Despite being separated by over two thousand years, they have a number of similarities. First of all, they both depict a nude male figure (Greek athletes were almost always portrayed in the nude) in the middle of an action. Both were originally made of bronze, and both exhibit a muscular and stylized depiction of the body. The facial expressions of both figures share a resemblance. As is typical of classical Greek art, the face on Myron's work is neutral and calm. The same is true of The Thinker, although half his face is obscured by his hand.

There are significant differences as well. First of all, the action of the two figures is different. The Discus Thrower is caught in the middle of an athletic activity as he prepares to throw a heavy disc. The Thinker's action is more cerebral. He is in the middle of a thought, and his body is shown at rest. As a viewer, we are meant to intuit that the action is taking place in the figure's mind. We can also compare the muscles of the two figures. The muscles on Myron's work are the ideal of a young man. He is toned and in excellent health. Rodin's statue portrays a more stylized expression of muscles, and the muscles appear uneven and even imperfect in form.

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The Discus Thrower of Myron, an Ancient Greek statue from the Classical Period that depicts a nude male figure in the action of winding up to throw a discus, and Rodin's The Thinker, an early modern French sculpture depicting a larger-than-life, nude, seated male with his hand to his chin, have only a few similarities. To start with the obvious, both depict nude male figures in dynamic poses. Both have also been replicated numerous times in casts made of bronze and have, through this replication, become iconic.

All that said, the pieces have more differences than similarities. The composition of The Discus Thrower is meant to indicate action, with muscles pulled tight and body mid-motion; The Thinker, on the other hand, is a body at rest. Rodin's sculpture conveys tortured, swirling emotions through the body's slumped posture and Rodin's signature naturalistic style, while The Discus Thrower has a blank expression characteristic of the Severe style of Ancient Greek art. Similarly, The Discus Thrower portrays an idealized male form, strictly adhering to Ancient Greek standards of beauty as was typical of the Classical period, while The Thinker's body is odd and uneven. Though Rodin pays just as much attention to muscle definition as the sculptor of The Discus Thrower, his naturalistic style means these muscles are lumpy and imperfect rather than toned and athletic.

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These two famous statues, both of nude, male figures, both muscular and caught in mid-action, are similar also in that there are many versions (and parodies) throughout the world. They began life as bronze statues (Rodin’s by the lost wax process), but quickly found reproduction in other media. They both feature arm positions as an integral part both of their physical design and of their “meaning.”

Their differences, after this automatic comparison of similarities, are striking. The original bronze early statue (5th c. BCE), Greek in origin and much duplicated by the Romans, is lost to modernity. It depicts a very active figure, an athlete, in mid-act of throwing the discus, almost a still photograph of a rapid action. Its “moment” finds the essence of the complicated paradigm of competition, giving it a rich overtone of significance, as though the essential moment of every human activity was captured there—a distinctly Greek notion.

The figure is standing, his arm extended; he is captured in a “non-thinking,” instinctive moment, much rehearsed and practiced, but now automatic, not mental. By contrast, Rodin’s statue is seated, his head resting on his fist, his face in deep contemplation, his mind, not his body, being exercised, in contemplation (this statue is sometimes called “Philosophizing”). Texturally, Rodin uses a rough-hewn look, letting the sculpting process show, while Myron’s texture is smoother, like flesh, showing no “brushstrokes.”

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