The biblical story of David & Goliath recounts how Goliath, a Philistine giant, challenges the Israelites to single combat in the centre of the battlefield to decide the outcome of the battle between Saul and the Israelites against the Philistines. Saul, the monarch of the Israelites cowers out resulting in the undersized David to step to the challenge. David rejected the use of Saul’s armour and opted to defend himself with nothing more than his sling, five stones and his staff. David and Goliath face off prior to the combat and David says “This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down, and I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth”.
The battle then commences and David launches a single stone from his sling into the centre of the giant Goliath’s forehead resulting in him falling onto his face. Following the battle the Philisties fled and were pursued by the Isaraelites. David then cut the head of Goliath off and took it to Jerusalem where he was praised as a hero and a giant-slayer. Goliath is a symbol of intimidation and monstrous size, with the term “Goliath” being related in modern usage to creatures and objects of large stature that are seen as immovable and unstoppable.
“Technologies are tools used by Man. They extend his powers, but do not change him.” is a humanist quote that relates heavily to the story of David & Goliath. The story of David and Goliath has become a common cliche to describe an underdog overcoming all odds and defeating a larger, more daunting opponent. Goliath is often depicted in art and literature as a Philistine monster who stood at a significantly larger height than those around him and was equipped with a thick set of bronze armour and weaponry that was larger than David himself. Regardless of this however, David is described and illustrated as the opposite of this. A much smaller, less intimidating figure who utilised brains over brawn to conquer his monstrous opponent.
In regards to the aforementioned quote this is a key example of the humanist concept as the use of David’s sling was ultimately the deciding factor in his bout against the giant Goliath; it did not change him or his core values. Prior to his battle he spoke to Goliath stating that “This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down” this was a statement that emphasised the importance of David’s faith to him and even after he conquered the monster using a single stone and sling and was placed in the highest regard by those around him he still kept his core beliefs, taking the head of Goliath back to Jerusalem and later usurping Saul to become the king of the United Monarchy of Israel.
Michelangelo’s sculpture of David that was erected from between 1501 to 1504 epitomises the humanistic values portrayed in the story of David & Goliath. The statue features David with a furrowed brow and in a state of deep concentration. When crafting this sculpture Michaelangelo aimed to humanise David as much as possible, this is illustrated in the sculptures body posture. David stands sculpted with complete composure and rationality. In the story of David and Goliath he conquers the monster and becomes a hero with sheer willpower and intelligence, representing the humanist ideal of heroism and self-discipline.
The eyes of the statue face towards the city of Florence and since its construction it has seen David become a prominent icon for the people of Florence. The piece of art not only is a showing of humanism by showing David in his most human form posing naked, in a state of vulnerability whilst also showing the human body is a gift and thing of beauty.
The importance of this statue to the people of Florence is also a sign of humanism. A key aspect in humanism and a virtue that is prominent in the story of David and Goliath is his display of his civic duty by defending his people, stepping up to the challenge of battling the feared Goliath, even when King Saul cowers out.
A quote from Classic Readings in Monster on Monster Theory states “Monsters perform important work for us as individuals and as communities policing our boundaries defining our norms … through their inversions and transgressions.”. In the story of David and Goliath, the monster Goliath defines the boundaries and the norms of his human opponent David just by his physical stature alone. Despite this, the humanistic ideals prevail over the transgressions of the monstrous Goliath, David is autonomous and therefore able to conquer his intimidating adversary using his human intelligence and willpower. The story of David vs Goliath has taken on a secular meaning following the events. With David having more human-like attributes in both size and mentality he is the embodiment of humanism, being armed with nothing more than a sling and 5 stones he was able to conquer the giant warrior who was feared and ultimately conquer the boundaries that the monster had placed on his community. In modern times the usage of the phrase David vs Goliath implies that Goliath is a feared, unstoppable competitor to that of a smaller, less intimidating David.
In summary, the story of David & Goliath explores a multitude of concepts including the humanist ideals and the civic virtues that are held at such a high regard when exploring the ideologies of humanism. Michelangelo’s sculpture portrays the humanist ideals and the key messages explored within the story of David & Goliath. The monster in the biblical account, Goliath is a figure that is incredibly powerful to explore when viewing the underdog situation from a humanist perspective, seeing how his adversary and his eventual downfall can be seen as the result of the ideal human using self-discipline and nobility.
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Freedman, D., 2000. Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. 1st ed. Amsterdam University Press: Wm Eerdmans Publishing Co..
Mcluhan, M., 1994. Understanding Media. MIT Press.
Simon, A. and Hensel, M., 2018. Classic Readings on Monster Theory. Arc Humanities Press. Strokes of Genius. 2022. Michelangelo’s David: Humanism at its finest. [ONLINE] Available at: https://bhcruickshanks.wordpress.com/2014/06/13/michelangelos-david-humanism-at-its-finest/. [Accessed 30 March 2022].