Written by J. Greenwood
Seven years ago, I had the opportunity to spend several months living and travelling throughout Europe. One of the most moving experiences I had during my travels was at the National Museum in Rome.
Approaching a bronze statute flecked with bits of green, my breath left me. First discovered in 1885, the Boxer at Rest leans muscular shoulders onto his knees in exhaustion, his face turned sideways as if to plead or observe. His body and face were imperfect, wrought with expressive details – cuts and dents, a mess of curly hair, tattered boxing wraps covering his hands. After hundreds of hours in museums, my encounter with the Boxer at Rest is an experience that has not left me.
I was not the only person who was so greatly impacted by the Boxer at Rest. One of the archaeologists that was present at the sculpture’s discovery, Rodolfo Lanciani, penned these words about the sculpture’s discovery:
“I have witnessed, in my long career in the active field of archaeology, many discoveries….but I have never felt such an extraordinary impression as the one created by the sight of [the Boxer at Rest], coming slowly out of the ground, as if awakening from a long repose after his gallant fights.”
This quote was posted on a plaque beside the boxer’s long-term home in the National Museum. I could barely imagine the thrill of slowly removing the dirt from the face and limbs of the Boxer at Rest, taking in the details one by one as the revealed themselves.
The boxer’s disappearance and discovery remind me of my husband’s descent and slow emergence from mental illness. I feel that he has been buried and forgotten for too long – not quite centuries, as the boxer – but certainly for a very long time.
Now slowly I feel the winds are changing direction again. The precious artifact has been located and the layers of dirt are carefully be swept away. Beneath this dense soil, there is hidden such unspeakable beauty, one that leaves me at once hopeful and overwhelmed with fear. I, like the archeologist present at the discovery of the Boxer at Rest, am watching in awe as one comes “slowly out of the ground, as if awakening from a long repose after his gallant fights.”
He was a beautiful artwork before he disappeared, but now it seems every detail is so much more vivid and notable. Would we see the Boxer at Rest the same if he had never disappeared into the Italian hills? Would his expression and scars speak to us the same if he had remained in sight since 330BC?
For me, there’s a magic about archeology, both in the physical world where we discover dinosaurs and remnants of older civilizations, but also in a less tangible realm of relationships with those we love. There’s a sense of redemption and hope, of the fact that maybe we can be found and rediscovered, even when we’ve be lost for so very long.