George Stimpson

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Did the Colossus of Rhodes bestride the harbor?

That the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the original seven wonders pf the world, stood across the entrance of the harbor, with a beacon Of light in an upraised hand and ships passing between its legs, is a fiction that seems to have been invented in the latter Middle Ages. The belief first became common in the sixteenth century and some authorities suppose a French writer named Blaise de Vegenere was the first to assign an impossible position to the famous statue. Shakespeare may or may not have alluded to this erroneous belief in Julius Caesar when he had Cassius assert that the dictator "doth bestride the narrow world, like a Colossus," and again in II Henry IV when he had Prince Hal say that "nothing but a colossus" could bestride Sir John Falstaff. Colossus, a Greek word of unknown origin, was applied by the ancients to any gigantic statue and it is the source of our adjective colossal. Rhodes, the metropolis of the island of the same name lying between the Aegean and the Mediterranean seas about ten miles off the Asia Minor coast, was unsuccessfully besieged in 394 B.C. by the Greek general Demetrius Poliorcetes, who, when he withdrew, left behind many engines that had been used in efforts to break down the city walls. Apparently in gratitude for their deliverance from this memorable siege, the inhabitants decided to convert this abandoned metal into an enormous statue dedicated to their national deity, Helios or the sun-god. Chares, a native of the city of Lindos on Rhodes and a pupil of the school of Lysippus, was chosen as the sculptor, and he spent twelve years in producing his masterpiece, which was completed about 280 B.C. The Colossus, the cost of which has been estimated at upward of a quarter of a million dol­lars,[page 75] was cast in bronze or brass in separate pieces and was, according to Strabo and Pliny, 105 feet high. Tradition says the thumbs of the statue were so large that an ordinary man could not reach completely round them with both arms. None of the ancient writers refer to the alleged fact that the Colossus of Rhodes held a beacon light in an Upraised hand to guide the ships entering and leaving the harbor. There is no trace of the famous statue now and its exact site cannot be determined, but it probably stood somewhere around the harbor and possibly near the entrance. In 224 B.C., after standing only fifty-six years, the Colossus was thrown down by an earthquake, but the great fragments remained on the ground to the wonderment of travelers and writers until 672 A.D., when the Saracens conquered the island and sold the broken pieces of metal as junk to a Jewish merchant, who is said to have employed 900 camels to carry them away. In all probability the metal again found its way into engines of war. Rhodes is one of the Dodecanese Islands. Although Dodecanese is from a Greek word meaning "twelve," the group of islands now so known numbers fourteen.