The metamorphosis of Zoticus the sculptor

The morning sun rose above a glimmering bay on a Greek island, casting long shadows and warming the morning air. Zoticus was already walking the steep meandering path from his villa on the mountain down to his studio in the town below. The air smelled of pine and the sharp rattling sounds of cicada grew louder with every step he took.

He did not sleep that night of excitement and his mind had been on one thing only for the last few months. Today, he was going to cast the largest and most impressive bronze statue that he had ever attempted to make. It was going to be a monumental figure of Hephaestus, who was among other things the god of sculptors. Making the plaster model and molds had taken more than a year for him and his students and now everything was ready for the decisive moment of pouring the molten bronze. Zoticus was obsessed with his work, searching for perfection and always raising the bar for himself. It had made him famous throughout ancient Greece.

He was the first to arrive. In preparation for today, the whole studio was cleaned and dusted, which made it feel like a different space. Zoticus lit the furnace, opened the windows, checked again that everything was in the right place, and brought his offerings to the gods. When he was done, his students came through the door with silent excitement. They knew that Zoticus could explode with rage over anything on a day like this and they were drilled so well on the procedure, that there was very little to discuss. The group dispersed through the studio, starting to work silently on their respective tasks. Around midday the large pot of bronze was molten and Zoticus looked down at it from the wooden balcony. His men took a quick lunch break, and Zoticus stayed inside to keep an eye on the bronze. He gazed deeply into the light yellow metal and felt that the temperature was exactly right. Enchanted by the beauty of this material, he leaned over the railing and lost his balance. Zoticus fell down, headfirst into the molten bronze and in a moment of perfect alchemy, his being was fused with the white-hot metal. He became one with the bronze and felt engulfed by the intense heat.

When the students finished their lunch and came back inside, their master was nowhere to be seen. This was not the first time that their master disappeared at a moment like this and without further doubt, the men went to work and poured all the parts of the sculpture.

Trapped inside the bronze, Zoticus was pleased to see how his students completed the casting to perfection, following all the instructions he had given them over and over again.

The pieces of the statue were put together in the days that followed and the students were all in a lively mood in the absence of their master. They frequently speculated about what could have happened to Zoticus. But when his wife came to the studio a week later to look for him, it became clear that the man had disappeared completely. He was well respected, but not much loved, so nobody went out to search for him and even his wife did not miss his presence much.

The Chalkeia festival, a celebration of Hephaestus and Athena, happened on a late October day. The town was filled with travelers and relatives from other islands to witness the unveiling of the great new sculpture, which stood covered with a linen cloth at the base of the mountain. The statue of Hephaestus was unveiled in an elaborate ceremony. When the cloth was pulled off, mouths dropped open and a long silence was followed by cheering and clapping that did not stop. It was a wonder to behold, shining bright in the autumn sun. The disappearance of Zoticus had become old news rather quickly and his name was only mentioned throughout the day by people who remarked a resemblance of Zoticus to the statue. The sculptor was transformed into the god Hephaestus himself, rising high above the crowd and bathing himself in worship and appreciation. He had never been this happy in his entire life, even though he could not move a muscle.

As the years went by, Zoticus forgot about his old life as a sculptor and now personified the god Hephaestus. In many ways it was as if he became what he always wanted to be: loved, worshipped, timeless and powerful.

But times changed, the Romans came and went, and eventually, the statue was forgotten and lost in a thick forest. At first, he was angry at the betrayal of his people. But slowly a deep sadness came over him and with it came an urge to move.

For decades he mustered all his willpower to move his stiff ligaments but to no avail.

One winter evening there was a fierce storm raging and a thunderbolt struck the metal sculpture, softening the joints. He felt an opening in his legs and quickly took a step. Though because it was Zoticus pretending to be the god Hephaestus, he forgot that the god had a limp from being thrown off the mountain Olympus. He misplaced his foot, stumbled, and fell down again.

This time the brittle bronze shattered into a thousand pieces, which made a ringing sound that was heard all across the island.

The next morning, curious people went to look for the source of this sound and found a burned clearing in the forest that was littered with shards of bronze. They filled bags and baskets with the precious metal and traded it off to merchants who sailed it away to distant places. Zoticus transformed again, separated from his identity and scattered around the world. For the first time, he was truly free. The bronze was used to make many objects, like canons shot from Dutch merchant ships, church bells rung in America, healing ceremonies done with gongs in China, and in all of those items, his consciousness was present.

For all time to come, Zoticus found himself full of life.