Polybius’ Portrait

Cast of Polybius' lost portrait

Kleitor was a major town in Arcadia, not far from a river named Aroanios. Pausanias complains that, even though he waited until sunset, he did not hear the singing spotted fish for which Kleitor used to be famous. There are a few remains, and perhaps even that is an overstatement: one of the most interesting remains, the portrait of the historian Polybius (200-118), is now lost.

It appears to have been found in the 1920s and was reportedly kept “in the schoolhouse of Mazeika”, a town that has in the meantime been renamed Kato Kleitora. After the discovery, a cast was made that was sent to Berlin, but ended up in Rome, in the Museo nazionale della civiltà romana. The original is now lost, and the cast in Italy is all we have.

The slab was erected by one Titus Flavius Polybius, who claimed to be a descendant of the great historian and lived in the second century CE. In that age, many Greeks and Romans were deeply interested in their past. When they wrote, they tried to imitate classical models (the “Second Sophistic”); an author like Pausanias was interested in the oldest religious cults; and the sculptor tried to represent Polybius as historically accurate as possible. Unfortunately, he exaggerated it a bit: Polybius’ military equipment was common in the fifth century BCE, not in the second.

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