I bet these guys could deconstruct a temple. Or turn martyrs into mincemeat. Without blinking an eye. If they had to.
There is not a trace of idealism in these heads; not an iota of mercy. These are “real men.” I love looking at them, at these human heads, but I don’t like them, these tough, stoic Romans (late Republican or early Augustan).
You can find them down the long hall in the new Roman galleries at the Met on the main floor on your way up the elevator from the ground floor (wheel chair and stroller accesible) entrance. (I tend to see them each time I go to the Met.)
Who knows what is on their mind? What do they think and what do they feel? Maybe nothing. I can’t for the life of me imagine. The problem of other minds. They strike me as completely alien, violent, human all too human, and not nice at all. But maybe that’s my problem, not theirs. Or maybe Daniel Dennet is right and there is no such thing as consciousness. Hard to say.
These guys do make me wonder about monotheism and pagan empire in the ancient Roman empire. According to some theorists, monotheism is uniquely culpable for political violence. Looking at these guys, I’m just not sure that’s right. Perhaps the Palestinian rabbis (in Mekhilta de Rebbi Ishmael?) understood things better. Whatever good these guys did was for the sake of empire. Tolerant pagans? Just don’t cross them, or look at them funny.