The statue of Olympiodoros follows the tradition of Greek portraits of generals and philosophers. In the early third century BC, Olympiodoros was instrumental in protecting his native city of Athens against the Macedonians, and for his valour he was honoured with statues that were placed on the Acropolis already during his lifetime. The herm, which was originally a stone pillar dedicated to the Greek god Hermes, shows Olympiodoros with a trimmed beard and curls, while the face is that of a mature man. This was also common in contemporary representations of philosophers, with which the bust of Olympiodoros shares many traits.
Olympiodoros is portrayed here as a powerful, experienced man. The decision to not portray the model as an idealized youth shows that the artist appreciated the general, whose scrunched-up eyebrows and serious mien signals his care for the well-being of his native city.
The fact that this Roman copy was made centuries after Olympiodoros’ lifetime shows how famous the Greek general and politician was. With its idiosyncratic traits, the bust of Olympiodoros epitomizes Hellenic portraiture, where true-to-life realism was emphasized more greatly than in previous Greek art. In this herm, it is the subject’s close-set eyes, receding hairline, and hair drawn behind the ears that are individualizing traits, even as the beard and furrowed brow identify the general Olympiodoros as a philosopher.
Text: Nils Ohlsen
From "Highlights. Art from Antiquity to 1945", Nasjonalmuseet 2014, ISBN 978-82-8154-088-0