The torso of a larger-than-life male sculpture was discovered during restoration work on the Little Theater of Ancient Epidaurus, the Greek city famed for its acoustically brilliant large theater. The statue is the figure of an idealized muscular male standing with a cloak wrapped around his arm and thrown over his shoulder.
Archaeologists think it’s a second century AD Roman copy of an original Hermes by leading Greek Classical sculptor Polycleitus. The enhanced musculature marks it as an Imperial-era Roman copy and although none of Polycleitus’ original works have survived, they were widely copied which is why we have enough of an inkling of what they looked like to determine which statue may have inspired any given copy.
Roman Emperor Hadrian went on a state visit to Epidaurus in the second century A.D., inspiring beautification and flattery projects in the city. This torso could have been a Hermes originally that was then modified in Hadrian’s honor to bear the imperial visage, or modified to bear the visage of another high official. This was a common practice at the time, and is one of the reasons heads so often go missing, because they had already been replaced at least once.
The statue had been built into the wall of a 4th century A.D. building near the Little Theater. The building is in cross proximity to more ancient ones that are thought to have been part of the city Agora.
The Little Theater was built in the same century (4th century B.C.) as the famed Epidaurus Theater. It was rediscovered in 1970 under a field olive trees. As per its diminutive monicker, the Little Theater had 9 tiers and 18 rows of seats and could seat about 2,000, whereas the big one started out with 34 rows (the Romans added another 21 rows) and could seat 15,000 spectators. The large theater, to this day fascinating to all performers and engineers because of its astonishing acoustics that allow anyone seated anywhere to hear with complete clarity the sound of a match being struck on stage, was designed by Polycleitus the Younger, the son of the sculptor who made the original Hermes this torso is thought to have been copied from.
The statue has been transferred to the Museum of Asklepios Epidaurus for cleaning and maintenance.