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Parting Thought on Greek and Persian Medals

The scope of this catalog does not allow for a comprehensive study of Melville’s prints in relation to his life and writing. But I do want to end each section with at least one “Parthian shot” in honor of the “royal archer” no. 3 above.[1]

My parting subject here is the helmeted Athena of the Ancient Greeks (Minerva to the Ancient Romans). Images of this powerful woman attracted Melville to the end of his life. The sculpture he saw of this goddess at the Villa Albani in 1857 inspired this description in his lecture on “Statues of Rome” later that year: “a creature as purely and serenely sublime as it is possible for the human hand to form” (NN PTO 407). Near the end of his poem “After the Pleasure Party” in 1891, Melville alluded again to the same “Helmeted woman” he had himself seen decades before when “Entering Albani’s porch.” In this poem, the “arm’d virgin . . . in whom power and peace unite” symbolizes a woman “self-reliant, strong and free” in the mind of Urania, the female protagonist of the poem, an astronomer who has just felt the force of eros for the first time (NN PP 263).

[1] Gail Coffler explains in Melville’s Classical Allusions that “the Parthians were famous horsemen and archers, and a ‘Parthian shot’ refers to a Parthian ruse in which mounted men used their arrows while simulating flight” (119). Melville refers to oceanic “waves” as “mounted Parthians” in Mardi (NN M 366).