In a contest of skill, Zeuxis painted some grapes so admirably that birds flew at them, thinking them real fruit, and tried to eat them.

Confident of success, Zeuxis said to his rival, Parrhasios of Ephesus, “Now let Parrhasios draw aside his curtain, and show us his production.” “You behold it already,” replied Parrhasios, “and have mistaken it for real drapery.” Whereupon the prize was awarded to him, for Zeuxis had deceived the birds, but Parrhasios had deceived Zeuxis.

Zeuxis died of laughter at the sight of an old woman which he had just depicted.

Another often-repeated story of the master artisan Zeuxis has overtones of the contemporary serial-killa-thrilla Silence of the Lambs, though his version (so to speak) never goes more than skin-deep:

He chose from five of the most beautiful maidens of Croton the most perfect parts (from one the limbs, from another the head, etc.) and then combined them according to the geometric rules of symmetry in a painting of Helen.

When I first read this story, it was unclear that Zeuxis was using the women as models - and in my 21st century weltschmerz, it was easy enough to imagine something far more Frankensteinian (giving whole new meaning to the phrase ars longa, vita brevis).

These rules were established by Vitruvius: the distance of the fingertops from the right and to the left hand with the arms outstretched must be the same as the length of the body; the distance from the crown of the head to the chin must be one-eighth the length of the body, etc.

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