RIP Li Wenliang, one of the "Fallen Caryatids"

Dr. Li Wenliang, the Chinese doctor who first warned a major epidemic of a new coronavirus was afoot (and suffered police intimidation for doing so) has now succumbed to the disease. May his memory be for a blessing.

My writing mentor Sarah Hoyt’s immediate reaction was “Rodin’s Fallen Caryatid”. [See also her own blog post.]

Auguste Rodin, “Fallen Caryatid With Stone” [ CC:BY Emw ]

She recalled its description by Robert Heinlein. Verily, it is hard to think of a more fitting tribute, to him and so many others like him.

[Jubal Harshaw to Ben:] “[F]or almost three thousand years or longer, architects have designed buildings with columns shaped as female figures—it got to be such a habit that they did it as casually as a small boy steps on an ant. After all those centuries it took Rodin to see that this was work too heavy for a girl. But he didn’t simply say, ‘Look, you jerks, if you must design this way, make it a brawny male figure.’ No, he showed it . . . and generalized the symbol. Here is this poor little caryatid who has tried—and failed, fallen under the load. She’s a good girl—look at her face. Serious, unhappy at her failure, but not blaming anyone else, not even the gods . . . and still trying to shoulder her load, after she’s crumpled under it.

  “But she’s more than good art denouncing some very bad art; she’s a symbol for every woman who has ever tried to shoulder a load that was too heavy for her—over half the female population of this planet, living and dead, I would guess. But not alone women—this symbol is sexless. It means every man and every woman who ever lived who sweated out life in uncomplaining fortitude, whose courage wasn’t even noticed until they crumpled under their loads. It’s courage, Ben, and victory.”
“Victory?”
“Victory in defeat, there is none higher. She didn’t give up, Ben; she’s still trying to lift that stone after it has crushed her. She’s a father going down to a dull office job while cancer is painfully eating away his insides, so as to bring home one more pay check for the kids. She’s a twelve-year old girl trying to mother her baby brothers and sisters because Mama had to go to Heaven. She’s a switchboard operator sticking to her job while smoke is choking her and the fire is cutting off her escape. She’s all the unsung heroes who couldn’t quite cut it but never quit. Come. Just salute as you pass her[…]

Robert A. Heinlein, “Stranger In A Strange Land”, Chapter 30.

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