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Paphos Mosaics 15 – The House of Aion

November 30, 2013

After an exceedingly long time I have finally gotten round to writing the next instalment of the Paphos Mosaic series.

The building in which the mosaic was discovered was found in 1983 and named the House of Aion after the god depicted in the centre of the mosaic. The mosaic itself is made up of five panels, the photos are below with subtitles.

I believe this is one of the most stunning pieces of mosaic work, the workmanship of the piece is exceptional, of high quality and the colours are amazing. It is believed that the large mosaic adorns what would have been the reception hall.

In the top left corner the myth of Leda and the Swan is depicted. I have written about this before and you can find out more information here.


Top left Leda and the Swan and Middle left Cassiopeia

The panel in the top right depicts Hermes handing Dionysus to his tutor Tropheus and the nymphs of MountNysa who are preparing a bath for the baby. This version of the myth tells how Hermes under Zeus orders took Dionysus to be raised by the nymphs (there are several versions of who looked after him once he was born of Zeus’ thigh).


Top right close view – Baby Dionysus and Hermes and Middle (right side) closer view the Nereids Thetis, Doris and Galatea

The middle panel depicts the beauty contest between Cassiopeia and the Nereids (Thetis, Doris and Galatea) the most beautiful daughters of Nereus. The contest is judged by Aion (the god of eternity) who declares Cassiopeia the winner. Other mythological figures can be identified within the piece Helios, Zeus and Athena watching from on high.

The bottom left panel is a precession of Dionysus. Centaurs pull the cart of the god, a maenad leads the procession and Tropheus follows behind. This mosaic would appear to represent a religious procession following the god’s emergence as a new deity. It is very different to the traditional representations of the god’s drunken revelry.


Middle left Cassiopeia and bottom left procession of Dionysus

The final panel in the bottom left represents the conclusion of the contest between Marsyas and Apollo. Marsyas challenged Apollo to a music contest believing he could play better than the god. Marsyas was proven wrong and for his audacity in challenging a god to a contest Apollo condemned him to death. The fear and anguish can be seen in the representation of Maryas while his pupil begs for mercy at Apollo’s feet.


Top right – Baby Dionysus and Hermes, Middle (right side) the Nereids Thetis, Doris and Galatea and bottom right Marsyas and Apollo.

The department of antiquities suggests that this is not a random selection of images. They believe that there may be a theme that runs through each of these panels, that of the passage of time and maintenance of the cosmic order. Dionysus is depicted as growing from baby to an adult god, the seduction of Leda by Zeus represents the grand design, Cassiopeia becomes a constellation on her death and Apollo’s victory represents the balance of the cosmic order. These are tied together by the representation of Aion in the middle, the god for all eternity.


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