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Plaque of Scylla

October 3, 2013

I had a fantastic time at the British museum on Sunday and thankfully had a bit of time to take in some of the Ancient Greek Artefacts before our timed entry to the Pompeii and Herculaneum exhibition. Hopefully I will commence writing a post this weekend about the exhibition.

During my wanderings I came across this wonderful plaque of Scylla the seamonster.


Scylla is described in the Odyssey as having;

the voice of a new-born whelp, but she herself is an evil monster, nor would anyone be glad at sight of her, no, not though it were a god that met her. Verily she has twelve feet, all misshapen,  and six necks, exceeding long, and on each one an awful head, and therein three rows of teeth, thick and close, and full of black death. Up to her middle she is hidden in the hollow cave, but she holds her head out beyond the dread chasm, [95] and fishes there, eagerly searching around the rock for dolphins and sea-dogs and whatever greater beast she may haply catch, such creatures as deep-moaning Amphitrite rears in multitudes past counting. By her no sailors yet may boast that they have fled unscathed in their ship, for with each head she carries off a man, snatching him from the dark-prowed ship.

(Homer Odyssey 85 – 100)

The Scylla in the plaque is not depicted as she is described in the Odyssey. This might have resulted from the difficulty of modelling such an image, artistic interpretation or due to the variations in the myth of Scylla; it is impossible to conclude which reason is the most likely.

This plaque is dated to 460 – 450 BC and was made on the island of Melos. I found myself drawn to the piece as I immediately saw a distinct similarity between this representation of Scylla and the Paphos Mosaic I have written about previously. I believe that this piece is an excellent example of the influence and spread of Ancient Greek culture that occurred as a result of trade between cities. What makes this piece fascinating to me is the similarity between the representations of Scylla, particularly given the distance between Melos and Cyprus.

The adoption of Greek religious practices, myths and customs resulting from interactions between islands and city states is a vast area of study. This post is merely a drop in that ocean. However, the comparison of artefacts such as these can be a firm basis from which to launch  further study.


Homer The Odyssey translated by A.T. Murray London: William Heinemann Ltd, 1919.


From → Artefacts

  1. Glad to see you had an enjoyable and productive visit to the British Museum. 🙂

    It’s interesting that the expression “between a rock and a hard place” may have its origins in the Odyssey and its depiction of Scylla and Charybdis. We sometimes forget how much of our modern-day language and expressions have their origins in ancient literature.

  2. Pauline permalink

    I visited the modern Scilla twice and stayed in Castello Ruffo which was a youth hostel on top of a cliff. As I hadn’t started studying the classics, I missed the chance to take a bus to Reggio di Calabria. There are two Greek bronze statues there, found in Riace the other side of the peninsula by a fisherman. The second time I came there from the island of Stromboli. At sunset the smoke from the continually erupting volcano can be seen in silhouette. The volcano can be viewed at night, guide recommeded. Likewise I saw wisps of smoke coming from Sicily which is seems so close. It is known that there are many whirlpools between Sicily and the mainland.
    On the way down to the basilica in Lepcis Magna in Libya there are women’s heads lined up. They alternate between Medusa with her reptile hairs and Scylla whose head is surrounded by dogs or puppies.

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