How I found Aphrodite on the Turkish Coast

Image: Aphrodite by Praxiteles (mid. 4th c. BC), marble head of statue.

At Cnidus, located at the western end of the Datca peninsula on the Turkish coast there is, on the hillside, the remains of a circular temple which once held one of the most admired marble statues – the naked Aphrodite by Praxiteles (mid 4th c. BC).

Described by the Greek writer Lucian as ‘the goddess in Parian marble, a most beautiful and splendid work’, it was alas destroyed in a great fire in Constantinople to where it had been removed during the time of Emperor Theodosius. Many Roman copies exists, for example, in the Louvre and the Vatican Museums.

Imagine my delight and surprise when, in a gallery at Petworth House in England, I came across a marble head about the right size, 15% larger than life-size. It is attested by experts as the work of Praxiteles, and has ‘the half-suppressed smile’ Lucian described. No wonder she still smiles.

‘Happy amongst the gods, he that was enchanted for thee’. Charicles, friend of Lucian, c. 150 BC.