The calf figures prominently in lust and life. It signifies strength and youth. Smooth, thick, sexy and muscular, we learn and laugh from calves. We are provoked. We cry, become jealous and aroused.
We rear as calves. The youthful cow. The veal we need to eat before it ever grows. Icebergs calving from melting glaciers.
You can blame your week calves on “climate shifts.”
What does it all mean?
Anatomically the calf is composed of the large gastrocnemius muscle and underneath the smaller soleus. Together they are responsible for the downward or plantar flexion of the foot and provide the shape of the calf as we know it.
In art as in life, there’s the calf of leisure, one of Cezanne’s bathers barefoot on damp summer sand; pre-expressionist calves accessorizing tight summer trunks.
There’s the neoclassical calf. A calf of the revolution invoking antiquity. How can you not be moved by David’s portrayal of Socrates asking his final question with his well defined right calf relaxed on his death bed, feeble and distant compared to the powerhouse of a right calf from the grieving pupil that hands him his poison.
How do philosophers develop calves like this? Are they Olympians? Maybe all ancient Greeks had such incredible muscular development. They were thinkers. To us they were gods–even Pythagoras, with the bulk of his massive right buttock equal to the sum of his two square calves on either side.
There’s the twentieth century calf, provoking us in literature and on screen as it does in life.
I think of Steve Reeves the Herculean body builder with outstanding calves and the other Reeves, George who played the original Superman on television. The two were unrelated and it makes sense, anatomically. Superman had much smaller calves. They looked best covered over in Clark’s baggy trousers. The infirm, depressed Superman might have bedded Lois if he did more calf raises.
In Phillip Roth’s Indignation, now in theaters (https://twitter.com/indignationfilm)it’s thoughts of the rocking left leg of Olivia Hutton, “rhythmically swaying,” with the skirt, “midway down her calf,” that foreshadows her muscular tongue “darting, swabbing, gliding…like the body stripped of its skin,” ultimately leading to the protagonists downfall–the calf performing fellatio.
© Richie Smith
© Richie Smith