Jacques-Louis David’s painting of Leonidas at Thermopylae in the Musée du Louvre is one of the most famous examples of how the tale of heroism has continued to capture people’s imaginations. David worked on the composition for almost fifteen years, repeatedly producing sketches for it, and eventually completed the painting in 1814.
Cabet represents a moment after the famous Battle of Thermopylae has passed. Inscribed on the trunk of the tree is a French translation of an epigram from Greek lyric poet Simonides, which was carved on a stone placed upon the Spartan burial mound at Thermopylae:
Ὦ ξεῖν’, ἀγγέλλειν Λακεδαιμονίοις ὅτι τῇδε
κείμεθα, τοῖς κείνων ῥήμασι πειθόμενοι
[O stranger, please tell the Spartan people that here
We have been laid down, and we have remained true to our word]
The shepherd’s young and lithe body reflects something of the Spartan ideal of fortitude, while his comfortable contraposto stance reflects the epigram's restful sentiment. A shepherd is defined by his watchfulness as he tends to his flock; with this shepherd apparently standing upon the mound of the buried we understand that these distinguished soldiers have been tended to and their glorious feats of bravery and obedience are not forgotten.
Cabet was a French sculptor, distinguished in his own lifetime. He presented a bronze version of this subject at the Salon in Paris in 1844. In Dijon stands his marble sculpture Résistance: a monument to the city’s opposition to the invading German army during the war in 1870.
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