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Poseidon and Polybotis

According to Hesiod (Theogony 184-5) and Apollodorus (Library 1.6.1) the giants were born from Gaia and Uranus. Apollodorus recounts that Gaia, frustrated on behalf of the Titans, instigated a war between the giants and the gods. However, the battle resulted in the destruction of the giants (Apollodorus Library 1.6.1). This piece represents one of the battles of the war, the one between Poseidon and the giant Polybotis.

Poseidon and Polybotis

Poseidon pursued Polybotis across the ocean to Cos. In order to stop the giant from escaping Poseidon struck the island with his trident and then used the rock that broke off to crush him (Apollodorus Library 1.6.1 and Strabo Geography 10.5.16). The island created is called Nisyros but in ancient times it was named Porphyris.

It is possible that the myth could be considered a tale of the success of Greek culture over other primitive societies. The Greek gods were born of the Titans whereas the giants are brought forth directly from the earth (Gaia), a primitive form of creation. Therefore, it might be argued that the gods represent the Greeks and the giants the other barbaric peoples of the Greek world. Furthermore, Poseidon’s action of crushing the giant with a piece of a Greek island could be viewed as another act of domination.

The Attic black figure band cup was discovered in grave number one in the cemetery of Ancient Thera. It dates to the third quarter of the sixth century BC. Poseidon is represented in godly form and the giant in hoplite armour. This scene can be seen in other works such as the Louvre Amphora and the Vatican Amphora. It might be argued that the use of the hoplite armour presents the giant as a mortal subject to the power of the god.


Apollodorus Library Translated by Frazer, J. G. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1921. Perseus Digital Library [Accessed 25 August 2014]

Hesiod Theogony in The Homeric Hymns and Homerica Translated by H.G. Evelyn-White London: William Heinemann Ltd, 1914. Perseus Digital Library [Accessed 25 August 2014]

Strabo GeographyThe Geography of Strabo Translated by Jones, H.L. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1924. Perseus Digital Library [Accessed 25 August 2014]

Archaic Gorgon Paros Archaeological Museum

One of my favourite mythological creatures has always been the Gorgon Medusa. I was pleasantly surprised walking into one of the rooms of the Paros Archaeological Museum to discover a beautiful statue of her in front of me. Unfortunately it has been ravaged slightly over time but it is still magnificent to behold.

Gorgon 2

Medusa was one of the daughters of the sea deities Phorkys and Keto but unlike her two sisters she was mortal. The three Gorgons were born with a terrifying appearance that petrified those who looked upon them. They are usually depicted as having large, round and angry faces, bulging eyes, boar tusks for teeth, snakes for hair, a large lolling tongue and wings. It is impossible to confirm when but at some point another version of Medusa’s origin developed. Once a beautiful woman Medusa was punished by Athena for sleeping with Poseidon in her temple;

Beyond all others she was famed for beauty, and the envious hope of many suitors. Words would fail to tell the glory of her hair, most wonderful of all her charms—A friend declared to me he saw its lovely splendour. Fame declares the Sovereign of the Sea attained her love in chaste Minerva’s (Athena’s) temple. While enraged she turned her head away and held her shield before her eyes. To punish that great crime Minerva changed the Gorgon’s splendid hair to serpents horrible. And now to strike her foes with fear, she wears upon her breast those awful vipers—creatures of her rage.

(Ovid Metamorphoses 4)

Despite her origin Medusa’s fate is the same. Perseus was charged by Polydektes of Seriphos to retrieve the head of Medusa for him. Aided by Athena and Hermes Perseus succeeds in his quest. The head of Medusa is presented to Athena who placed it upon her aegis to terrify her enemies. The use of the Gorgon’s image as a means to frighten enemies is similarly seen on the shields of Greek warriors; for example the bronze ornamental shield displayed at the Archaeological Museum of Olympia.

Olympia Shiled

The image of the Gorgon is also seen on talismans, amulets and temples. One particularly good example is the representation of the Gorgon Medusa on The Temple of Artemis Corcyra (this links to a previous blog post of mine). Another is the head of the Gorgon on the exterior lintel of the doorway that enters the Heroon at Gjolbaschi-Trysa. It is possible that the image was used to ward off evil but it may have had other uses. Oberleitner (cited in Barringer, 2008:183) considers that the Gorgon on the Heroon is intended to watch over the ‘heroized dead and his family’. Barringer (2008:183) observes that no evidence is provided to support the argument. However, she does not present anything to reject Oberleitner’s claim. It has been argued that female creatures such as the Gorgon might be considered to represent the fear women inspired in men (Blundell, 1995:17). However, Blundell (1995:17) observes that it is worth noting that the representations can also be useful to keep enemies at bay. Blundell particularly notes the wide use of images of Gorgons for the decoration of temples suggesting that their function was to chase away evil spirits. It is reasonable to suggest that, as the image of the Gorgon was considered fearful, it was a commonly held belief that it could protect people and buildings from evil spirits.

The sculpture dates to the 6th century BC and was found in an unidentified structure; possibly a sanctuary or public building. The image has all of the terrifying features of a traditional Gorgon; large head, boar tusks, lolling tongue and bulging eyes.

Gorgon 3

However, there are some subtle differences such as the chiton covered in scales, tied at the waist by a snake belt. I would suggest that this was used to further demonise the representation of the Gorgon to make it more scary. The statue appears to be preparing to fly as the wings are closed at the back and her leg is bent as if she is about to launch into flight.

Gorgon 1

This certainly would have been a terrifying and awe-inspiring image.

Primary Sources

Ovid Metamorphoses Translated by More, B. Boston: Cornhill Publishing Co, 1922. Theoi [Accessed 27/07/2014]

Secondary Sources

Barringer, J. Art, Myth, and Ritual in Classical Greece Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Blundell, S. Women in Ancient Greece Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995.

Mythological Sculpture of Albert Gilbert

Alfred Gilbert was an exceptional English sculptor who produced a vast amount of work some of which had a mythological theme. I have had the pleasure of seeing three pieces of Gilbert’s mythological work at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. The pieces are kept under glass and as such the photographs are not particularly clear.


2013-09-28 16.01.07

The sculpture of Icarus represents ambition and desire. Icarus escaped from the labyrinth of the Minotaur using wax wings designed by his father Daedulus. However, he ignored his father’s warning and flew too close to the sun, the wax melted and he plummeted to earth, drowning in the sea. It is possible that Icarus’ impending death is represented by the bird at the base devouring a snake.

Athlete Wrestling a Python

2013-09-28 16.01.29

This sculpture represents an athlete battling a python. However, it is possible that there are mythological influences within the piece. Within Greek mythology it is told that Apollo chased the serpent Python from Mount Parnassus to the Oracle at Delphi. Apollo having killed Python at Delphi became the patron of the sanctuary. It would appear that there are distinct similarities between the myth and the representation in this sculpture.

Perseus Arming

2013-09-28 16.01.47

Gilbert represents Perseus preparing for battle. It could be for one of his many mythological fights but I would suggest that he is preparing to travel to fight the Gorgon Medusa. Hermes lent his sandals to Perseus in order that he could travel to the island where Medusa resided and claim her head. It appears in the sculpture that Perseus is checking the sandals having just put them on.

These three pieces are exceptional and if you get the opportunity I would recommend visiting the museum to see them.

The Lapis Satricum

After many weeks of typing and editing I submitted my assignment on Early Rome and Italy last Monday and am back to blogging. I thought that for my first post since April I would give a bit of insight into what I have been writing about over the past six plus weeks.

‘Rome at the beginning was ruled by kings. Freedom and the consulship were established by Lucius Brutus’ (Tacitus The Annals 1.1). According to literary tradition Brutus led the revolution against the last king of Rome, Tarquinius Superbus, following the rape of Lucretia by Sextus Tarquinius. Romans considered this ‘traditional’ account fact and it was accepted, without question, that the republic immediately succeeded the monarchy. The assignment I wrote explored this in detail but, for the purposes of this post, I intend to focus on one piece of archaeological evidence that raises questions about the literary tradition.

The Lapis Satricum inscription, discovered in 1977, reused in the foundations of the Temple of Mater Matuta is dated to 500 BC. The inscription, though damaged, reads, ‘dedicated by the companions of Publius Valerius to Mars’ (Galsterer, 2006). Scholarship is divided between those that suggest the inscription refers to Valerius Publicola (Publicola) one of the first consuls of Rome (Wiseman, 2008:311; Cornell, 1995:140; Versnel, cited in Bremmer, 1982:134; Raaflaub, 2005:8) and those who are non-committal (Holloway, 1994:153; Smith, 1996:198, 236-7; Forsythe, 2005:199). It appears Forsythe (2005:199) infers that the inscription may be from a later date as he notes Livy’s reference to the consul P.Valerius who led a military mission against Satricum in 377 BC. This is unlikely as Smith (1996:235) states that the inscription had been found upside-down.

Lapis Satricum

Lapis Satricum

The Lapis Satricum is significant contemporary evidence that indicates the existence of a group who aligned themselves with Publius Valerius, not a state or city (Forsythe, 2005:199). The group acted as a retinue or companions for a Roman or resident of Satricum (Bremmer, 1982:147; Cornell, 1995:144; Richardson, 2010:35). There are accounts of other individuals who had followers who were allied to them such as Attus Clausus (Livy History of Rome 2.16.3-5), Mastarna (ILS 212 transl. Cornell, 1995:133-4) and the Fabii (Livy History of Rome 2.48.8-2.49.9); amongst others. The groups are comparable to the followers of Homeric heroes as the lifestyle of raiding and making war was similar (Forsythe, 2005:199). Cornell (1995:144) describes them in terms of a private army, moving freely within the Italian peninsula, whose allegiance could change as necessary; citing the Fabii’s private war against Veii with only the support of family, clients and companions as an example. Bremmer (1982:136) and Forsythe (2005:200) question this interpretation suggesting Livy’s description indicates the family and companions waved off those headed to war instead of providing military support. However, Livy’s account may be based on his contemporary experiences of family groups leaving for war. Arguably the actions of the Fabii represent a developmental stage of Roman society where the state was not yet able to enforce authority over the aristocracy (Forsythe, 2005:200; Cornell, 1995:144). Therefore, if the Roman state had not yet evolved to the point of being able to control powerful families it might be proposed that the traditional account of governmental revolution could be questioned. It is suggested by Alfoldi (cited in Forsythe 2005:105) that Rome may have intermittently been ruled by ‘Etruscan adventurers’. Arguably individuals such as Mastarna, King Porsenna of Clusium and, possibly, Publicola might have been such rulers of Rome, either by consent or force. If the period of time was short they may not have been remembered as kings (Cornell, 1995:144-5). The literary tradition, through oral retelling and reinterpretation, would have developed to explain away such anomalies.

The existence of the Lapis Satricum indicates the continuation of state evolution during the sixth century as groups of individuals continued to align themselves to a leader. During this period it might be inferred that though states existed they were not fully formed and powerful families such as the Fabii and Valerii may have continued to operate autonomously. Furthermore, it is possible Rome may have continued to have been conquered and ruled by powerful individuals and their followers. If the individual in the inscription is Publicola it might be suggested that he ruled Rome as king. This period of rule would have been after the traditionally accepted date of the end of the monarchy and so instead of king he would have been accorded the position of consul in the literary accounts.

The Lapis Satricum is one small piece of an exceptionally large puzzle. Other pieces of evidence, such as the consular fasti and the reference by Livy to an office of Praetor Maximus, might be considered alongside the Lapis Satricum to argue that instead of revolution there was a gradual evolution of government. There is a vast amount of scholarly debate on this subject. If you want to investigate this in greater detail the bibliography below will provide a good starting point.


Primary Sources

Livy History of Rome, Translated by Roberts, C. New York: E. P. Dutton and Co, 1912. Perseus Digital Library [Accessed: 3 April 2014]

Tacitus The Annals – Complete Works of Tacitus, Translated by Church, A. and Brodribb, W., S. Bryant (ed) New York: Random House, 1942. Perseus Digital Library [Accessed: 1 April 2014]

Secondary Sources

Bremmer, J. ‘The suodales of Poplios Valesios’, Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, 47, 1982, pp. 133-147. Available at: [Accessed 20 April 2014]

Cornell, T. The Beginnings of Rome: Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars (c. 1000-264), London: Routledge, 1995.

Forsythe, G. A Critical History of Early Rome: From Prehistory to the First Punic War, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.

Galsterer, H. ‘Lapis Satricanus’ Brill’s New Pauly. H. Cancik and H. Schneider (eds) Brill Online, 2014. [Accessed: 5 May 2014]

Holloway, R. The Archaeology of Early Rome and Latium, London: Routledge, 1994.

Raaflaub, K. ‘The Conflict of the Orders in Archaic Rome: A Comprehensive and Comparative Approach’, in K. Raaflaub (ed), Social Struggles in Archaic Rome: New Perspectives on the Conflict of the Orders (2nd ed), Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2005, pp. 1-46.

Richardson, J. ‘The Oath per Iovem lapidem and the Community in Archaic Rome’, Rheinisches Museum für Philologie, 153, 2010, pp. 25-42. Available at: [Accessed: 17 March 2014]

Smith, C. Early Rome and Latium, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996.

Wiseman, T. Unwritten Rome, Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2008.


Artefact – Funeral Urns

I have been preparing for the Classical Association conference this week and so have not had the opportunity to write anything substantial. I look forward to doing a write up of the conference when I get back. However, during this preparation work I have been thinking about where I want to take my studies once I finish my MA. I have always had a fascination with the mythology of the underworld and during a recent visit to the British Museum I saw these two pieces.


Cinerary urn designed in the form of a thatched hut dating from the 8/7th century BC. Discovered in Monte Albano.



Marble cinerary urn from the 1st/2nd century AD. The inscription reads as a dedication to Bovia Procula. It is thought that this originated in southern Italy.

It is interesting that the funerary urn did not change much in design over the duration of 800-1000 years. Though materials differ, as with the ones pictured, the shape and general design remain quite similar. Burials occurred in other parts of Italy but the only funeral rite in early Villanovian culture was incineration. The remains were placed in a container and buried in a cylindrical well. The most common style of funerary urn was a biconical vase with a bowl like lid. The hut urn pictured above was uncommon; at larger burial sites approximately one out of every hundred were of this style (Bartoloni, 2000:59).

Since taking these photos I have often thought about the pieces and what they represent. This is definitely an area that I would like to investigate in greater depth and maybe where my future studies take me.

Just a note that if you are not attending the conference but are on Twitter you can follow #CA14. There are a number of other people you can follow in addition to me on @da11sop. I would also recommend you follow the Classics Collective through their blog where they will be posting updates on the conference.


Bartoloni, G. The Origin and Diffusion of Villanovan Culture in The Etruscans, Torelli, M. (Ed), London: Thames and Hudson, 2001, pp. 53-71.



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