You all know that when someone is praised as a “colossus” in their field, it means that he or she towers over others in stature, ability, reputation, and achievement. It is a good thing. It comes from one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, a gigantic bronze statue of Helios erected at the harbor of Rhodes, in celebration of a victory over Antigonos the One-Eyed. The statue stood over 107 feet tall and was made of bronze plates. It was splendid, but it had a short life. Fifty-six years after it was set up, in 226 BC, an earthquake hit Rhodes and the statue toppled over; it may have been shaken apart by the force of the earthquake. The shattered remains lay on the ground for centuries, and even in their ruinous state, they were a wonder to behold. According to Pliny the Elder, “Few men can clasp the thumb in their arms, and its fingers are larger than most statues.” (Natural History, 34.18). Some 800 years later, when the Arabs had captured Rhodes, they sold the Colossus for scrap metal, and it was carted off to Syria by 900 camels.
So what does this have to do with the denizens of Hall E on Samothrace??
Well, each year I try to see a new place in Greece. And even though I have been coming for over 30 years, there are still a lot of places I haven’t seen. This year, I wanted to go to Rhodes. I didn’t have much time—I planned to fly over the day after I arrived in Greece and fly back the next evening, with friend and colleague Margie Miles of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. Because of the strikes the plagued Greece this summer, our plans were threatened. But we were determined to get at least to Lindos, to the splendid Sanctuary of Athena. So off we flew, grabbed a car, drove to Lindos, and shot up the acropolis. So far, so good. But after four hours on the acropolis, hungry, thirsty, and jetlagged, we headed down the steep steps. I turned to take one last photo, paying no attention to my feet, and BAM!, like the Colossus I was on the ground. My leg broken just where the Colossus was vulnerable, too!
I wasn’t carted off in pieces by 900 camels, but by the time they were through with me, I had a cast and crutches. I was lucky to have good friends who helped me at the hospital.
I can tell you, a rocky Greek island like Samothrace is no place to be stuck in a cast. No swimming; no hiking; just hobbling around. Fortunately, I have the cast off now and have graduated to a cane. The students encouraged me to get a hiking staff, so I don’t look quite so pathetic.
In short, while one should strive for greatness, there is definitely some times when you do not want to be a “colossus” in the field!