Music and the Spoken Word: ‘Winged victory’

Editor’s note: “The Spoken Word” is shared by Lloyd Newell each Sunday during the weekly Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square broadcast. This will be given March 8, 2020.

In what is perhaps the most famous museum in the world, the Louvre in Paris, there stands an 18-foot-tall statue estimated to be over 2,000 years old. It was discovered by an amateur archeologist in 1863, lying in pieces in the sand on the Greek island of Samothrace. Now it stands, steadfast and strong, among the Louvre’s most celebrated works of art and quite possibly one of the world’s most recognizable sculptures.

We call it the Winged Victory of Samothrace, though no one knows what its creator would have called it. In fact, we don’t know who created it, and we can only guess at its original purpose or meaning. The fact that the winged figure appears to be stepping “toward the front of a ship” leads some “historians to conclude that it was created to commemorate a successful sea battle” (see “This Armless Sculpture Is One of the Louvre’s Most Treasured Masterpieces,” by Kelly Richman-Abdou, My Modern Met, Nov. 23, 2018). But that’s just our best guess. We don’t even know exactly what the Winged Victory originally looked like, because the head and both arms are missing.

Winged Victory of Samothrace is a marble sculpture in the Louvre Museum, shown here in February 2016.
Winged Victory of Samothrace is a marble sculpture in the Louvre Museum, shown here in February 2016. Credit: Shutterstock

And yet, despite everything we don’t know about this remarkable sculpture, we do know how we feel when we look it at. The majestic Winged Victory inspires feelings of awe, courage, confidence and triumph.

But why is a statue that is so obviously damaged and incomplete so universally loved and admired? Some point to the artistry and skill evident in what remains of Winged Victory. It is beautiful, they say, despite its incompleteness. After all, one doesn’t need to be perfect to be beautiful. On the other hand, there’s something captivating, too, in the statue’s imperfections. Could it be that Winged Victory is beautiful because of its imperfections, its incompleteness?

The fact is, we spend our days surrounded by imperfect, incomplete people and situations. We too are imperfect and incomplete. We may at times feel that life has left us lying in pieces in the sand. Yet each of us is worthy of reclamation, not condemnation; each of us deserves recovery, not rejection.

When we look at Winged Victory, we are reminded what victory looks like — beautiful, but never flawless. She seems to be telling us that damage and flaws should never stop us from standing tall and confident, steadfast and strong.

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