Sunday, November 14, 2010

Highlights from Zeugma Mosaic Museum's Collection

Poseidon, Oceanus, and Tethys:

Poseidon, chief of the water deities and second in power only to Zeus, carried a trident, with which he could shake the earth, call forth or dissipate storms, and the like. To impress Demeter, who urged him to create the world's most beautiful animal, Poseidon invented the horse. Horses with brass hoofs and golden manes drew his chariot across the seas, which became calm before him.Homer claims Oceanus and Tethys, pictured in the lower half of this mosaic, were responsible for the birth of the gods, but Hesiod's version of the origins is generally accepted. Gods of the sea, Oceanus and his wife Tethys bore 3,000 daughters and 3,000 sons. Known as the Oceanids, these children were spirits of rivers, waters, and springs.


Demeter:
"I begin to sing about the holy goddess, Demeter of the beautiful hair, about her and her daughter, Persephone of the lovely ankles, whom Hades snatched away; loud-thundering Zeus, who sees all, gave her to him." So writes the anonymous author of the ancient Homeric Hymn to Demeter. The goddess of agriculture, Demeter here wears a crown of flowers and ears of wheat. Inside the outer circle that frames her are eight axe blades. The eight blades are thought to represent Persephone, whom Zeus decreed must spend eight months of the year with her mother and the other four months with Hades, her husband and god of the underworld.


Achelous:

Achelous, the horned king of Euphrates and the oldest of the male Oceanids, once wrestled with Heracles, the greatest of Greek heroes, over a woman both desired for a bride. "They came together..." wrote the 5th-century B.C. Greek dramatist Sophocles in his play The Women of Trachis. "Then was there confusion of sounds—the beating of fists, the twang of bow, the clash of bull's horns; there were the wrestling holds, the painful collision of heads, and the groans of both." In the struggle, during which Achelous transformed himself into a bull, Heracles broke off one of Achelous's horns (shown here on top of his forehead). But later a victorious Heracles returned the horn to him. In exchange, Achelous gave Heracles the miraculous horn of Amalthea, which provided its owner with all the food and drink he could want. This was the cornu copiae, or horn of plenty.



Achilles:

When Helen, the beautiful wife of Menelaus, king of Sparta, was kidnapped to Troy, Menelaus called upon his fellow chieftains to help him recover his wife. One of them was the great warrior Achilles. Achilles's mother, the immortal sea-nymph Thetis, knowing that her son's fate was to perish at Troy if he went, dispatched him to the court of King Lycomedes. There, at her urging, he disguised himself as a maiden and joined the king's daughters. Odysseus, learning that Achilles was at the palace, appeared before the women as a merchant, offering items for sale, including weaponry. While the daughters naturally gravitated towards the feminine objects, Achilles, as this mosaic depicts, couldn't resist the arms. Thereby unmasked, Achilles quickly agreed to accompany Odysseus to Troy, where Achilles was eventually killed by a poisoned arrow that struck him in the heel. It was his one weak spot: When he was a baby, his mother Thetis dipped him in the River Styx, which made him invulnerable except where she held him at the heel.



Gypsy Girl:

Scholars have suggested that the Gypsy Girl, named for the wild look in her eyes, might be Gaea, goddess of the Earth. Hesiod, the 8th-century B.C. Greek poet, whose account of how the gods came into existence is considered the classic version, says that in the beginning there was Chaos, which in Greek means "yawning." Into that yawning, or void, came Gaea (Earth), Tartarus (the lowest region of the underworld), Eros (Love), Erebus (the personification of Tartarus) and Night. With Uranus, god of the sky, Gaea gave birth to the Titans, 12 gods that included Oceanus and Tethys.


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