Fallen Caryatid

I wrote this piece two years ago on another one of my blogs, I think it’s appropriate to share it again, on this blog.


I love Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. I recently read it and discussed it with a dear friend of mine. Brilliant piece of work. It was controversial in its day, and I like that.

According to the Wikipedia entry,

“The late-1960s counterculture, popularized by the hippie movement, was influenced by its themes of individual liberty, self-responsibility, sexual freedom, and the influence of organized religion on human culture and government, and adopted the book as something of a manifesto.”

I hadn’t realized that beneath my highly professional veneer is a hippie just dying to come out….

But more than that, this book also brought some healing to my soul. While I was reading Stranger in a Strange Land, I was also reading the Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller, and some deeply suppressed emotions were being brought forth as a result – some things I was unable to cope with by myself. I commented to my friend how sometimes I felt as if I had a great weight upon my shoulders that I wished I could cast off. My friend B from Tennessee was a little ahead of me in reading the book and when I told him, he immediately urged me to find the parts on the fallen caryatid. And I did, after I looked up what a caryatid was in the first place.

A caryatid is a Greek architectural column or pillar in the form of a sculpted female figure. Here’s what a caryatid is supposed to look like:

(image from The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Legacy of Greece)

The French sculptor, Auguste Rodin (you probably know his most famous sculpture of The Thinker), however, had sculpted his version of a caryatid.

(image from The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Legacy of Greece)

Heinlein beautifully deciphers the meaning of Rodin’s Fallen Caryatid through the eyes of Jubal Harshaw, the wise-but-cynical, “father-figure” character of the book:

This poor little caryatid has fallen under the load. She’s a good girl—look at her face. Serious, unhappy at her failure, not blaming anyone, not even the gods…and still trying to shoulder her load, after she’s crumpled under it.

But she’s more than just good art denouncing bad art; she’s a symbol for every woman who ever shouldered a load too heavy. But not alone women—this symbol means every man and woman who ever sweated out life in uncomplaining fortitude until they crumpled under their loads. It’s courage…and victory.

Victory in defeat, there is none higher. She didn’t give up…she’s still trying to lift that stone after it has crushed her…she’s all the unsung heroes who couldn’t make it but never quit.
~ Robert A. Heinlein,
Stranger in a Strange Land

I don’t know if my friend knew how much that passage meant to me. I am not sure if he truly knew how much pain I was in at the time, but what struck me was that he gave me something my heart and soul always longed for – the recognition and appreciation that I was carrying a load far too great for my shoulders. When I read the passage, tears poured out of me…and I felt so much relief, that finally, it was recognized that I had been carrying so much that grieved me and continued to affect me, even though I thought I left most of the bad stuff behind in the past.

That was a turning point for me…I no longer felt alone in my struggles to deal with the ghosts of the past, of the abuse and soul-crushing and dream-killing oppression I thought I left behind but that didn’t leave me. It was also the beginning of the illumination of the inner recesses of my Self, and who I am.


About Casey

“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’ ~ Jack Kerouac, On The Road Again
This entry was posted in Art, Friendship, Gratitude, Grief and Loss, Hope, Must reads, Robert Heinlein, Rodin, Soul, spirituality, Stories for healing. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Fallen Caryatid

  1. That was one of my favorite passages from the book as well. Thank you for recalling it to me, and I’m glad it helped you. 🙂

  2. Mary –

    I’m glad to know that you read and enjoyed this work. Not too many people I know have read Heinlein. I think it’s a great passage for a lot of people.


  3. joesoares says:

    yes, it happens in this strange way of life..meeting some one that gives you a hand ad show us the way and light…The Angels are near my dear..lol
    Much love and happiness.

    • Thank you so much, Joe.

      I do feel so much love and happiness, and I do believe its because The Angels ARE near.

      You know, you are a wonderful person and I’m so glad to have ‘met’ you.

      I’m still working on that poem, by the way. I just haven’t been able to unlock that form of expression yet. I’m not sure why.

      All the best,


  4. Don Livingston says:

    Am currently rereading SIASL, and for the first time searched out the image of the caryatid, which led me here to your blog. Your comment reminded me of a line from the preface to ‘The Problem of Pain’: “…when pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.”

    On those dark nights when the love of God seems intangible, that human sympathy is unutterably comforting.

  5. Don –

    Thank you so much for your thoughts. I’m so glad you are reading SIASL. I’m also glad you found your way here.

    I think C.S. Lewis is right…courage more than knowledge, human sympathy more than courage, and the least tincture of the love of God…but I’d offer that the love of God can be seen in the sympathy of humans. Where else would that sympathy come from, if not from God, in some fashion, right? What moves people, complete strangers, no less, to come forward and offer sympathy? I’d like to think it is the spirit of God moving through people.

    One the way out to a local state park, I was listening the audiobook of Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ Women Who Run With the Wolves. Her way of therapeutic help is through the oral tradition of myths and stories handed down through the generations, and her goal is to help others transcend their suffering and not just survive, but thrive.

    One thing that she had said that was very fascinating to me:

    She told us one good thing to do would be to mark the dark times of our journey with Descansos. “A Descanso is a Spanish word meaning rest or resting place….A Descanso is usually erected at the site of tragic accident in which some ones life was cut short.” A Descanso is a “tribute of love”.

    It would do us good to note on a written timeline from infancy to the current date all the times in our lives where our paths were cut off, where our hopes and dreams have been crushed, where there have been ambushes or deaths. And then we should mark those dark times with a cross. And bless those moments in our lives – the little deaths and the big deaths of our lives. Because it is through these events that shape us into who we are today. A lot of our creativity comes out of those places too.

    Dr. Estes’ calls these crosses and blessings “little love notes to your suffering”.

    We need to remember, to bless and then to forget.

    Interestingly enough…shortly after I finished that part, we drove past a Descanso marker on my side of the road. I do not believe this was coincidental at all.

    Wow, midway through writing this response, the phone rang. I just got off the phone with an old colleague of mine. He went to a spiritual retreat last weekend, and the Jesuit priest, who was a former therapist for children with cancer, gave a moving talk about…(can you believe it?) C.S. Lewis’ “The Problem of Pain”. I had never heard of this book before today, and now within the span of 30 minutes, I have heard this referred to twice.

    I think there is something to these synchronous moments and messages from God come through them.

    Believe me, I am taking note of these things…most definitely.

    Thanks so much for sharing with me.

Would you like to share your thoughts? I'd love to hear them.

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