The aim of this paper is to examine Cy Twombly's use of the Anabasis motif ('Anabasis' is the title of one sculpture (Del Roscio 1997 no. 53) and a series of fifteen drawings). I propose to analyse Twombly's negotiation of public and private personae; his use of different media; his concern with issues of mediation and translation in the reception of classical antiquity; and his construction of interlinked series of images focussing on conflict between Europe and Asia. I will focus in particular on shared motifs with the Fifty Days at Iliam sequence in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The paper will start by reviewing the works in which Twombly uses the Anabasis motif and sketching the history of their scholarly interpretation. Twombly first used Anabasis as the name of a (typically white) chariot sculpture in 1980. Over the next three years he also made a number of drawings on paper with 'Anabasis' and 'Xenophon' written on them; these drawings were first shown in 1984 as part of a series of fifteen works of the same size that are inscribed with a number of other recurrent or singulative phrases ('Sylvae', 'Virgilian Views', 'Formian dreams', 'Nike Androgyne', 'Lycian'). Many critics have tended to offer biographical and psychological interpretations of the 'Anabasis' works. Twombly is known by his father's nickname, Cy (based on the baseball player Cyclone Young); he named his own son Cyrus Alessandro. Hence it has been suggested that the Anabasis series involves a play on the name of Cyrus the Younger (Bann 1985, 1994; followed and developed by Leeman, Bird). As with Age of Alexander (1959, celebrating the birth of Twombly's son), however, readings focussing on Twombly's self-construction and interrogation must be supplemented by analysis of the public resonance of his works.
More central to the concern of this paper is Varnedoe's discussion of the Lepanto drawings, which he links with Twombly's other depictions of east-west conflict, including the Anabasis series. This has been developed by Rood, who also focuses briefly on the issue of survival and mediation in relation to Twombly's self-positioning within an Italian milieu (cf. the inscription of 'C T Roma' on the drawings, with dates (with Vance); note also that the word 'Proem' in two of the drawings in the series alludes to a poem by J.G. Whittier which evokes images of Arcadia (cf. Schmidt on Twombly's Arcadia; Jacobus)). Rood's reading is mainly concerned, however, to relate Twombly's drawing to the long history of Xenophontic appropriation within American military and literary culture. This paper will extend this concern with mediation in the reception of antiquity by drawing parallels with some of Twombly's other works (e.g. the role of Pope's translation in Fifty Days at Iliam).
The paper will end by comparing the representation of violence in the Anabasis series and in Fifty Days at Iliam. The chariot Anabasis sculpture and the representation of chariot wheels in the drawings on paper in the Anabasis series look back to the eighth panel ('Ilians in Battle') of Fifty Days at Iliam among other works in which chariot forms stand for war (cf. Weitmann). Other motifs shared with the Pennsylvania series include the smear of red paint (cf. 'Vengeance of Achilles'); the intense circular scrawling (cf. 'The Shield of Achilles'); and the red triangle reflecting the Greek alpha (cf. 'Heroes of the Achaeans'), itself programmatically linked to Twombly's deliberate misspelling Iliam. After exploring Twombly's typology of masculine violence and aggression, the paper will conclude by discussing the different modalities of narrative employed by Twombly in the construction of the two series and by contrasting the monumentalizing of Fifty Days at Iliam with the questioning of monumentalizing suggested by Twombly's photograph of himself (looking at some inscribed pillars in the sand-dunes of Yemen) in the Anabasis catalogue.