5 Statues That Somehow Got Treated Like Living People
Here’s a funny video of a dog waiting for a statue to throw a stick, so they can play fetch. The statue, being a statue, does not respond, but the dog remains hopeful.
Wow, how adorable that a dog could get confused and treat a statue that way. On the other hand, how disturbing that the affection a dog eagerly offers living people is no more than it offers this statue. Does this mean dogs do not — as we have been told — really love us? Are they just conditioned to wag their tails and wiggle their tongues every time they see something that looks like a head on a torso? Are we just as conditioned too — to smile at cute videos that have been staged for our amusement?
Either way, many of us are as confused as dogs and readily treat statues like human beings. And we’re not just talking about how people look at naked statues and get really horny. We’re talking about when...
Cops Had a Standoff With a ‘Call of Duty’ Statue
This week marks the 10-year anniversary of the time LAPD officers stormed the offices of Robotoki, a video game studio based in L.A. They received an alert that someone in the building had hit a panic button, a button Robotoki had installed thanks to the death threats game developers routinely receive. Four officers approached the building and saw the figure of a man with a gun inside. They entered the building from the rear and ascended the stairs.
They approached the first guy they saw and took him into custody. It was the studio founder, Robert Bowling, and he was unarmed. The figure they’d seen, it turned out, was a statue of the character Ghost from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 — a game Robotoki hadn’t made, but Bowling had worked for the company who had. The panic button had been pressed by some employee who was not in danger but who’d just seen the button, hadn’t known what it was and pressed it out of curiosity.
The way Bowling tells the story, the cops ended up relaxing and playing old NES games at the office when they realized the threat was fake. We’re going to assume that was just Bowling joking, otherwise that raises some questions about how on-duty cops spend their time on Friday nights. Anyway, we’re all lucky it had been a statue of Ghost and not Griggs, or else the cops would have fired their weapons as they entered and left no survivors.
A Statue Was Tried for Killing an Athlete
Let’s move now to Ancient Greece and talk about Theagenes, an Olympic athlete. Theagenes was a boxer as well as a champion at pankration, a sport where a competitor would sometimes die (and would still emerge the victor). When Theagenes was a boy, he once stole a bronze statue of a god from a Thasos marketplace. People debated putting him to death for this, but then they instead elected to let him return the statue.
After he died, Thasos made a bronze statue of Theagenes himself. One guy who’d never liked him — maybe a competitor he’d beat, maybe someone who bet against him and lost — took to regularly kicking the statue. Finally, it fell forward on this man, killing him. Thasos held a trial for the man’s murder, because even if no person had committed the act, the death was still unjust and should be labeled as such. So, they found the statue of Theagenes guilty, and sentenced it to exile by chucking it into the sea.
That would be the end of this improbable story. But when Thasos fell on hard times in later years, the Oracle told city officials that to reverse their fortunes, they must welcome back all exiles. They obeyed, but this did nothing to rid the land of famine or plague. Then they remembered exiling the Theagenes statue, and so, they got a fisherman to retrieve it from its shallow grave and returned it to a place of honor.
With such ancient stories, it’s a little hard to separate fact from legend. But this story was related by the second-century geographer Pausanias, and if you can’t believe Pausanias, well, that’s reasonable.
Europeans Hunted Australian Natives for Two Years in Search of a Kidnapped Figurehead
In the 1840s, rumors spread that natives far in the south of Australia were holding a European woman captive. Exactly who she was or where she’d come from, well, the stories weren’t clear on that. Some said that she’d been on a ship that had crashed upon the shore, and yet even those who knew the name of the ship, and could list some people on it, weren’t able to identify the woman.
One expedition that went out in search of her left messages addressing her as “white woman.” These messages, written on handkerchiefs, also double as aggressive targeted ads for a dating service:
Stories about the woman contradicted each other. There’d be some account of a camp discovered with the woman’s underwear, another of a woman’s body next to a dead child. One boy gave a detailed story of a woman who’d come from a ship, a woman that the chief Bunjaleena had forcibly stripped and forced to bear a whole litter of children for him. It gave the men all the motivation they needed to keep searching, and to kill anyone who failed to give them answers.
Finally, the men caught up with Bunjaleena and his tribe. They found the hostage these people had been holding on to. It was a figurehead. Not a leader who’s merely a symbol — we mean a literal figurehead. It was the statue of a woman from the prow of a ship that had crashed onto the coast. Naturally, some reports continued to say, “Well, but still. There may have been some truth to the rumors after all, so good on these men for pursuing justice.”
Inquisitors Found That a Statue of the Virgin Mary Was a Witch
During the Protestant Reformation, you had your Catholics, who venerated statues of saints. Then you had your Protestants, who said veneration meant worshipping the statue rather than praying to what the statue represented, and such idolatry was a sin. In the city of Riga, Latvia, these reformers leveled that fury at a statue of the Virgin Mary. Merely destroying the statue wasn’t enough. No, they would put the statue on trial — as a witch.
To a third party, treating the statue like a living witch might sound like the same level of unreasonableness as worshipping it. Still, the reformers gave it a trial by ordeal, dropping it in the sea to see if it would sink. If it sank, that would be a suitable way to dispose of the statue, as we learned from Theagenes. Instead, it floated. This confirmed it was a witch, so they executed it, by setting it on fire.
The Crying Jesus Statue
Let’s not pretend religious fervor over statues was just something in the distant past. Look to all the various cases of people reporting that statues are bleeding or crying, proof that God or the saints are revealing themselves. Very rarely are any of these supposed miracles supported by the actual Church — the theology says nothing about these icons coming to life, and the Church knows that these sightings have natural explanations. One time, when people spotted blood on a Virgin Mary statue in Italy, the bishop quite reasonably called the police. The blood turned out to belong to a janitor.
That janitor was charged with high sacrilege. Sometimes, though, it’s the person debunking the miracle who faces such charges. In Mumbai in 2012, people thought they saw tears falling down the face of a huge Jesus crucifix. The Catholic Church never labeled it a miracle, and a TV station brought out established skeptic Sanal Edamaruku to take a look at it. He demonstrated that the water originated from a nearby toilet. A drainage pipe was clogged, water zipped up the statue through a natural process called capillary action, and the dampness appeared on the statue’s face.
Prosecutors pursued Edamaruku for violating blasphemy laws. Fearing prison, he fled to Finland.
Stay strong, Sanal Edamaruku. There was another righteous man, not so long ago, who was persecuted for blasphemy. His name was Jesus.