Antonio Pollaiuolo, Battle of the Naked Men, c. 1470
Prompt: Imaginatively insert yourself into the picture through one of its figures. Describe the work of art by imagining what is happening from that individual’s point of view.
Men. So many men. We are naked and afraid. We scream and grimace and strain every muscle in our bodies we can hear the sinews moaning. The commotion is so loud it seems like there must be well over one hundred men, yet we number merely ten. The battle before me is unspeakable. It is violent, savage, and strange. We fight with swords, arrows, chains and axes. Many, if not all of us, will die today.
I stand on the left flank of the battle field, if you can call it that. Really it is just a clearing near a field on the outskirts of the forest. I think the farmer might be growing corn but then again I cannot say for sure as I have more serious matters on my mind. I just wish to survive this wretched day. I pray to any and all gods to spare my tormented soul.
I finish my prayer and return my thoughts to the battle at hand. Shields and swords litter the ground. I gaze in horror at that which assaults my senses. Not only can I hear and see the wickedness of battle, but I can also taste it, smell it, and feel it.
I see two men standing in front of me engaged in sword combat. They appear almost as a macabre pair of bookends the way they nearly mirror each other. A chain links the two men together yet they both rear back and away from each other. Swords drawn back each prepares to strike the mortal blow. The man closest to me closes his eyes in fear; I am not sure if he is awaiting his death or if he is afraid to watch the other man die by his own hand. His opponent, however, does not shy away from the moment. He bellows a deep and frightening war-cry as he wields his sword in an arc of death.
My eyes are pulled away from these men, for at the very same moment, three men are engaged in a desperate fight to the death. One man fights with a sword, the second with a bow, and a third, caught in the middle, brandishes an ax after abandoning his bow. This third man will never see another rising sun as he has been caught unaware. His quiver of arrows hangs limp at his side, useless without his trampled bow. Instead, he raises an ax high above his head; ready to crack the skull of his attacker. Try as he might, he cannot bring the ax down, for the assailant grabs the ax handle and momentarily halts the attack. The poor middle man still avoids the sword but in doing so he does not see the bow. The archer places the arrow, taut in bowstring, at the base of the unsuspecting man’s neck…
An ear-piercing scream draws my attention to two men engaged in close combat on the ground. Swords have been abandoned for daggers and sheer will power. One man lies on the ground, back arched with the effort required to stop his would be murderer. It was this man’s scream that I heard. In an attempt to save his own life, he has wrapped his hand around the blade of his attacker’s dagger. His body contorts in pain. His foot smashes into the assailant’s groin. The attacker grimaces in pain but does not draw back or abandon his assault. In his pain, however, he does not notice his victim’s dagger is perilously close to striking a killer blow.
Something moves at my feet. A man lies dying on the ground. He might be dead already. I did not see it happen. A man stands over the broken body. He holds a dagger inside the wretched corpse. I smell the sweat of ten men engaged in fierce battle. I taste the fear of these men for it is my own as well. I see the dead man lying at my feet. I smell the metallic scent of blood. I see the man holding the dagger inside the deceased. I taste the bile that rises in my throat. I feel the rough texture of wood in my hands. I feel the weight of the ax and the tension in my muscles as I raise the weapon above my head. I feel the world disappear beneath my feet and the air leave my lungs. I see the unsuspecting man I am about to kill.
I close my eyes. I do not want to see anymore.
Written for an assignment in one of my art history classes. It’s a bit rough but it feels good to be writing creatively again.