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Paphos Mosaics 12 – Achilles First Bath

August 31, 2013

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This mosaic represents the first bath of Achilles.

Achilles was the son of King Peleus and the Nereid Thetis. In order to make Achilles immortal Thetis bathed him in the River Styx and placed him in a fire. However, the heel by which Thetis had held Achilles remained mortal and vulnerable. This mosaic does not represent that myth but instead his first bath following birth.

There are a number of people represented in the mosaic; on the far left is Ambrosia, who is bringing the water for the bath, and then Anatrophe the nurse to Achilles who is holding him in her arms.

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Then Achilles parents Thetis, lying on what appears to be a couch, and to her right on his throne is Peleus. Behind Peleus are the three fates Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos.

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The three fates were responsible for the duration of a mortals life. Clotho spun the thread of life on her distaff and spindle, which can be seen in the mosaic,  Lachesis measured the thread with her rod and Atropos cut it with her shears when the mortals life was at an end. Both Lachesis and Atropos do not hold the instruments usually associated with them in this representation. Lachesis has a diptych, an ancient device for writing on, and Atropos a scroll. It is possible that as this is a late Roman mosaic (5th Century AD) the diptych was considered appropriate for the recording of time and the scroll used to represent Achilles future.

In comparison to the Theseus mosaic found in the same house (link below) the scene has very little life, it appears somewhat stilted and not as beautiful or powerful. However, this is not an action scene and so the artist may have had difficulty portraying an energy. Alternatively the first bath of a child could be considered an important ritualistic moment and as such the artist attempted to convey a certain reverence through the representation. The importance of the occasion affirmed through the presence of those who will set down the child’s fate. Unfortunately such assertions are difficult to support as the other mosaics in the room have not survived and comparisons in artistic style cannot be made.

I will leave it to personal interpretation as to whether this piece has artistic short comings or not. Regardless of artistic merit this is still an important mosaic as it demonstrates another phase in the development of the art form.

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