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Parrhasius (Παρράσιος) of Ephesus, one of the greatest painters of Greece. He settled in Athens, and may be ranked among the Attic artists. The period of his activity is fixed by the anecdote which Xenophon records of the conversation between him and Socrates on the subject of art; he was therefore distinguished as a painter before 399 BC. Seneca relates a tale that Parrhasius bought one of the Olynthians whom Philip sold into slavery, 346 BC, and tortured him in order to have a model for his picture of Prometheus; but the story, which is similar to one told of Michelangelo, is chronologically impossible. Another tale recorded of him describes his contest with Zeuxis. The latter painted some grapes so perfectly that birds came to peck at them. He then called on Parrhasius to draw aside the curtain and show his picture, but, finding that his rivals picture was the curtain itself, he acknowledged himself to be surpassed, for Zeuxis had deceived birds, but Parrhasius had deceived Zeuxis.

He was universally placed in the very first rank among painters. His skilful drawing of outlines is especially praised. and many of his drawings on wood and parchment were preserved and highly valued by later painters for purposes of study. He first attained skill in making his figures appear to stand out from the background. His picture of Theseus adorned the Capitol in Rome. His other works, besides the obscene subjects with which he is said to have amused his leisure, are chiefly mythological groups. A picture of the Demos (Δῆμος), the personified People of Athens, is famous; according to the story, which is probably based upon epigrams, the twelve prominent characteristics of the people, though apparently quite inconsistent with each other, were distinctly expressed in this figure.

Zeuxis and Parrhasius

Abrodiaetus, a name given to Parrhasius on account of the sumptuous manner of his living

Stelios Lydakis, Ancient Greek Painting and Its Echoes in Later Art Publisher: Getty Publishing ISBN: 0892366834

(Discussion of Socrates with the Painter Parrhasius)

Parrhasius and his Captive, Nathaniel Parker Willis:

Parrhasius stood gazing forgetfully
Upon his canvas. There Prometheus lay,
Chained to the cold rocks of Mount Cau'casus--
The vulture at his vitals, and the links
Of the lame Lemnian festering in his flesh;
[Footnote: Vulcan; the Olympian artist, who,
when hurled from heaven, fell upon the Island
of Lemnos, in the Ægean. He forged the chain
with which Prometheus was bound.]
And, as the painter's mind felt through the dim,
Rapt mystery, and plucked the shadows forth
With its far-reaching fancy, and with form
And color clad them, his fine, earnest eye
Flashed with a passionate fire; and the quick curl
Of his thin nostril, and his quivering lip,
Were like the wing'd god's, breathing from his flight.
[Footnote: The winged god Mercury.]

"Bring me the captive now!
My bands feel skilful, and the shadows lift
From my waked spirit airily and swift,
And I could paint the bow.
Upon the bended heavens, around me play
Colors of such divinity to-day.

"Ha! bind him on his back!
Look! as Prometheus in my picture here!
Quick, or he faints! stand with the cordial near!
Now--bend him to the rack!
Press down the poisoned links into his flesh,
And tear agape that healing wound afresh!

"So, let him writhe! How long
Will he live thus? Quick, my good pencil, now!
What a fine agony works upon his brow!
Ha! gray-haired, and so strong!
How fearfully he stifles that short moan!
Gods! if I could but paint a dying groan!

"'Pity' thee! So I do.
I pity the dumb victim at the altar;
But does the robed priest for his pity falter?
I'd rack thee though I knew
A thousand lives were perishing in thine!
What were ten thousand to a fame like mine?

"Yet there's a deathless name!
A spirit that the smothering vault shall spurn,
And like a steadfast planet mount and burn;
And, though its crown of flame
Consumed my brain to ashes as it shone,
By all the fiery stars I'd bind it on!

"Ay, though it bid me rifle
My heart's last fount for its insatiate thirst;
Though every life-strung nerve be maddened first;
Though it should bid me stifle
The yearning in my throat for my sweet child,
And taunt its mother till my brain went wild--

"All--I would do it all
Sooner than die, like a dull worm, to rot--
Thrust foully into earth to be forgot!
O heavens! but I appall
Your heart, old man! Forgive--ha! on your lives
Let him not faint!--rack him till he revives!

"Vain--vain--give o'er. His eye
Glazes apace. He does not feel you now;
Stand back! I'll paint the death-dew on his brow.
Gods I if he do not die
But for one moment--one--till I eclipse
Conception with the scorn of those calm lips!

"Shivering! Hark! he mutters
Brokenly now: that was a difficult breath--
Another? Wilt thou never come, O Death?
Look how his temple flutters!
Is his heart still? Aha! lift up his head!
He shudders--gasps--Jove help him! So--he's dead!"

* * * * *

How like a mounting devil in the heart
Rules the unreined ambition! Let it once
But play the monarch, and its haughty brow
Glows with a beauty that bewilders thought,
And unthrones peace forever. Putting on
The very pomp of Lucifer, it turns
The heart to ashes, and with not a spring
Left in the bosom for the spirit's lip,
We look upon our splendor and forget
The thirst of which we perish!

See also Painting (Zographia, Graphe)

Stelios Lydakis, Ancient Greek Painting and Its Echoes in Later Art Publisher: Getty Publishing ISBN: 0892366834

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