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Glyptique romaine

Most Fowl: Athena, Ares, and Hermes Depicted as Birds on Engraved Gems

Oiseaux en majorité : Athéna, Arès et Hermès représentés en oiseaux sur des pierres précieuses
Jeffrey Spier
p. 245-250

Résumés

Trois gemmes inédites sont ici analysées. Toutes représentent des divinités sous une forme composite, en partie sous forme d’oiseaux. Il s’agit d’une intaille qui représente Athéna sous la forme d’une chouette, d’un camée qui montre Arès sous la forme d’un coq, et d’une autre intaille avec un coq-Hermès composite. Le coq-Hermès apparaît sur des tintinnabula en bronze du ier siècle, qui jouaient le rôle d’amulettes porte-bonheur.

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Texte intégral

The author would like to thank Gertrud Platz, Norbert Franken, and Alexandra Villing for their kind assistance.

1Images of Greco-Roman gods often included animals that served as the deity’s particular emblem—Zeus and the eagle, Hera and the peacock, Athena and the owl, Hermes and the ram or cock, Artemis and the stag, Dionysos and the panther, and so on. The origins of these associations were in the distant past, rooted in ancient myth or cult, and were long forgotten by Roman times, but the images themselves were entirely familiar. These concise and easily recognizable compositions were especially suitable for engraved gems, where they represented, most likely, the patron deity of the owner of the seal.

  • 1 Hafner, 1940.

2Some fanciful images conflate the god and his animal. This taste for fantastic, mixed creatures in Greece certainly goes back to the fourth century BC, or earlier, and it is likely that images of gods combined with their animal attributes were created at that time.1 Such images are not unusual on engraved gems of the Roman period, and three previously unpublished examples may be examined here.

  • 2 Private collection. Red jasper, set in a bronze ring; the gem c. 10.5 × 7.5 mm.
  • 3 Boardman, 1970, p. 234‑5 and 286, fig. 268.
  • 4 Crawford, 1974, p. 484, no. 474/2; Böhm 1997, p. 123, with further discussion.
  • 5 For other examples, see Raspe, 1791, nos. 13555‑13559; Furtwängler, 1896, nos. 3340, 5928, 7090, an (...)

3An especially popular motif of this type portrays Athena with the body of an owl and a helmeted, human head, usually holding a spear and shield (fig. 1).2 The earliest surviving version of this image appears in the fourth century BC on a clay loom weight from Corinth, probably impressed by means of metal ring.3 The device was familiar enough to be chosen for the reverse type of a Roman silver denarius of the moneyer L. Valerius Asisulus in 45 BC4 and remained popular on gems at least through the second century AD.5

Fig. 1. Private collection. Red jasper in bronze ring. Athena-owl. 2nd century AD

Fig. 1. Private collection. Red jasper in bronze ring. Athena-owl. 2nd century AD

Photo: author

  • 6 Private collection. The cameo is mounted in an openwork gold frame (28 × 23 mm.) with a border of s (...)

4A rarer, indeed seemingly unique, composition is found on a cameo of second century date on which is carved the composite figure of a cock with the head of a bearded and helmeted warrior, who holds a shield and spear (fig. 2).6 The image likely represents Ares/ Mars, the god of war, as a fighting cock, just as the helmeted, human-headed owl symbolizes Athena.

Fig. 2. Private collection. Sardonyx cameo in gold mount. Ares-cock. Late 2nd century AD

Fig. 2. Private collection. Sardonyx cameo in gold mount. Ares-cock. Late 2nd century AD

Photo: author

  • 7 Raspe, 1791, nos. 13562‑3 and 13567; Furtwängler, 1896, no. 7084.
  • 8 Furtwängler, 1896, no. 3339
  • 9 Deonna, 1910, for a terracotta in Berne; and for the bronze, see O. Kurz in Hackin, 1954, p. 147-8, (...)

5Similarly, some gems depict Hermes/Mercury as a cock with a human head, sometimes wearing a petasos and with a kerykeion over the shoulder to clarify the identification.7 A cock with the upper body of a man playing a lyre also represents Hermes, as the accompanying symbol of the kerykeion indicates.8 Human-headed cocks are also found in small-scale sculpture, such as terracottas and a small bronze discovered at Begram, Afghanistan.9

  • 10 Private collection; 15.0 × 9.5 mm.
  • 11 Bullettino dell’instituto di corrispondenza archeologica 1845 (no. II, February, 1845), p. 26.

6A more remarkable composition is found on an engraved gem in a private collection (fig. 3a-b).10 Rather than placing the head of Hermes/Mercury on the body of a bird, the engraver created a frontally facing head that is part human and part cockerel, a fully human head and neck with human eyes but with a cock’s crest, beak, earlobes, and prominent wattles that hang from the cheeks, quite a monstrous creation. The banded agate, which has slightly discolored and is now dark gray, white, and light gray, is cut in a very fine style characteristic of early Imperial work and probably dates to the early first century AD. Judging from the published description, a duplicate of the gem in glass was in the collection of Dr. Braun in Rome in 1845, but neither the original nor a cast can now be located.11

Fig. 3a-b. Private collection. Banded agate. Frontally facing head of Hermes-cock. Early 1st century AD. Original and impression

Fig. 3a-b. Private collection. Banded agate. Frontally facing head of Hermes-cock. Early 1st century AD. Original and impression

Photo: author

  • 12 Inv. GR 1814.7‑4.415. The bronze was first published by de la Chausse, 1707, part 5, p. 121‑2; the (...)
  • 13 Inv. Fr 1972; height: 7.5 cm. Friederichs, 1871, p. 422, no. 1972.

7A complete, sculptural version of the Hermes-cock is found in the extraordinary bronze statuette now in the British Museum, which in the eighteenth century was in the Chigi collection in Rome before being acquired by Charles Townley (fig. 4).12 The large (20.2 cm) standing figure has an enormous phallus. He holds a purse in his right hand, from which bells once hung, and another bell in the left hand. A bronze head now in the Antikensammlung in Berlin was likely detached from a similar bronze figure (fig. 5).13 Both bronze heads and the image on the gem surely represent the same subject, although there are minor differences, notably in the use of a human mouth, rather than a beak, on the two bronzes.

Fig. 4. London, British Museum, inv. GR 1814.7‑4.415. Bronze tintinnabulum depicting a Hermes-cock

Fig. 4. London, British Museum, inv. GR 1814.7‑4.415. Bronze tintinnabulum depicting a Hermes-cock

Photo courtesy of the British Museum

Fig. 5. Berlin, Antikensammlung, inv. Fr 1972. Bronze head of a Hermes-cock, detached from a tintinnabulum

Fig. 5. Berlin, Antikensammlung, inv. Fr 1972. Bronze head of a Hermes-cock, detached from a tintinnabulum

Photo courtesy of the Antikensammlung, Berlin

  • 14 See the selection in Grant et al., 1975, p. 138‑143; Johns, 1982, p. 67‑71; and Varone, 2000, p. 18 (...)

8The bronzes were once suspended from chains and hung in homes or gardens, serving both as wind chimes (tintinnabula) and as amuletic good luck charms. The fashion for hanging bells was certainly current in the first century AD, the date of the Hermes-cock bronzes, judging from their style. Suetonius (Augustus, 91) notes that the emperor Augustus hung bells at the temple of Jupiter Tonans in Rome for good luck, and hanging bronze bells are well attested at Pompeii and Herculaneum. Most often the bells take the form of phallic charms in a variety of highly inventive compositions, including winged phallus-lions, dwarves with grotesque phalluses, and even a gladiator fighting his own lion-phallus.14

  • 15 Burkert, 1985, p. 156.
  • 16 Naples, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, inv. No. 27854; Grant et al., 1975, p. 134‑5; Johns, 1982, p. (...)
  • 17 Grant et al., 1975, p. 141; Franken 2004.
  • 18 Ortiz, 1994, no. 227; the bell also served as an oil lamp.
  • 19 Varone, 2000, p. 14, fig. 1.

9Hermes is especially suited to his role as phallic charm, for his very origins are as a herm, an ithyphallic stone pillar, a primordial symbol of territorial demarcation around which a considerable body of Greek ritual developed.15 The various cult traditions, as well as the image itself, remained very much alive in first century Rome. The Chigi tintinnabulum was likely discovered in Rome, and other varieties of phallic Hermes were found at Pompeii and Herculaneum. One hanging bronze bell from Pompeii depicts Hermes as grotesquely ithyphallic and with four further phalluses springing from his head.16 On another example, the god rides an ithyphallic ram, another of the god’s animal symbols.17 A bronze from Herculaneum, now in the Ortiz collection, shows Hermes, denoted by his winged petasos, as a dwarf with multiple phalluses, including one with ram’s horns, from which many bells are suspended.18 A fresco at the entrance to a bakery in Pompeii (IX.12.6) continues the theme, providing Hermes with an enormous phallus, again as a symbol of good fortune and prosperity.19

  • 20 Baird, 1981‑82, provides an extensive discussion of the topic, often far-fetched but with a conside (...)

10In Greece and Rome the cock had long been a symbol of fertility and eroticism (typically associated with the god Eros in Greek art) and had often been equated with the phallus itself. Indeed, such imagery never lost its popularity in Western popular culture.20 The tradition of equating Hermes with the cock was also very old and held multiple meanings, based both on ritual and on the bird’s phallic associations. The composite figure of the ithyphallic Hermes-cock, as represented by the Chigi and Berlin bronzes, appears to have been created in the late Hellenistic period, drawing on popular traditions, to serve as a symbol of good luck and protection from malevolent forces. The artist of this finely engraved gem drew on such sculptural prototypes. Working in the late Hellenistic traditions of the Augustan period, which favored the virtuosity of cutting frontally facing heads, he adapted the image for use as a seal.

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Bibliographie

Baird, L.Y., 1981‑82, Priapus Gallinaceus: The Role of the Cock in Fertility and Eroticism in Classical Antiquity and the Middle Ages, Studies in Iconography, 7‑8, p. 81‑111.

Beger, L., 1695‑1701, Thesaurus Brandenburgicus Selectus, Berlin.

Boardman, J., 1970, Greek Gems and Finger Rings, London.

Böhm, S., 1997, Die Münzen der Römischen Republik und ihre Bildquellen, Mainz.

Brandt, E., Schmidt, E., Krug, A. and Gercke, W., 1972, Antike Gemmen in Deutschen Sammlungen, Band 1: Staatliche Münzsammlung, München, Teil 3, Munich.

Burkert, W., 1985, Greek Religion, Oxford.

Cacciotti, B., 2004, La collezione di antichità del cardinale Flavio Chigi, Rome.

Crawford, M., 1974, Roman Republican Coinage, Cambridge.

De La Chausse, M.A., 1746, Romanum Museum, sive thesaurus eruditae antiquitatis, Rome.

Deonna, W., 1910, Quelques monuments antiques trouvés en Suisse, Anzeiger für schweizerische Altertumskunde, 12, p. 15‑21

Franken, N., 2004, Merkur auf dem Widder. Anmerkungen zu fünf unerkannten Tintinnabula, JÖAI, 73, p. 129‑135

Friederichs, C., 1871, Berlins antike Bildwerke, vol. 2, Düsseldorf.

Furwängler, A., 1896, Beschreibung der geschnittenen Steine im Antiquarium, Königliche Museen zu Berlin, Berlin.

Grant, M., De Simone, A. and Merella, M.T., 1975, Eros in Pompeii. The Secret Rooms of the National Museum of Naples, New York.

Hackin, J., 1954, Nouvelles recherché archéologiques à Begram, Paris.

Hafner, G., 1940, Neue Mischwesen des 4. Jahrhunderts, JÖAI 32, p. 25‑34.

Johns, C., 1982, Sex or Symbol? Erotic Images of Greece and Rome, London.

Ortiz, G., 1994, In Pursuit of the Absolute. Art of the Ancient World from the George Ortiz Collection, Berne.

Raspe, R.E., 1791, A Descriptive Catalogue of a General Collection of Ancient and Modern Engraved Gems, Cameos as Well as Intaglios…by James Tassie, London.

Schlüter, M., Platz-Horster, G., and Zazoff, P., 1975, Antike Gemmen in Deutschen Sammlungen, Band 4: Hannover, Kestner-Museum. Hamburg, Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbei, Wiesbaden.

Sena Chiesa, G., 1966, Gemme del Museo Nazionale di Aquileia, Padua.

Varone, A., 2000, Eroticism in Pompeii, Rome.

Walters, H.B., 1926, Catalogue of the Engraved Gems and Cameos, Greek, Etruscan and Roman, in the British Museum, London.

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Notes

1 Hafner, 1940.

2 Private collection. Red jasper, set in a bronze ring; the gem c. 10.5 × 7.5 mm.

3 Boardman, 1970, p. 234‑5 and 286, fig. 268.

4 Crawford, 1974, p. 484, no. 474/2; Böhm 1997, p. 123, with further discussion.

5 For other examples, see Raspe, 1791, nos. 13555‑13559; Furtwängler, 1896, nos. 3340, 5928, 7090, and 8660; Walters, 1926, nos. 2484‑2485; Sena Chiesa, 1966, p. 344, no. 1015; Brandt et al., 1972, no. 2280; and Schlüter et al., 1975, no. 1619.

6 Private collection. The cameo is mounted in an openwork gold frame (28 × 23 mm.) with a border of splaying florals and three loops on the back, perhaps for attachment to a necklace.

7 Raspe, 1791, nos. 13562‑3 and 13567; Furtwängler, 1896, no. 7084.

8 Furtwängler, 1896, no. 3339

9 Deonna, 1910, for a terracotta in Berne; and for the bronze, see O. Kurz in Hackin, 1954, p. 147-8, figs. 455‑458, who provides an excellent commentary.

10 Private collection; 15.0 × 9.5 mm.

11 Bullettino dell’instituto di corrispondenza archeologica 1845 (no. II, February, 1845), p. 26.

12 Inv. GR 1814.7‑4.415. The bronze was first published by de la Chausse, 1707, part 5, p. 121‑2; the engraving shows additional phalluses hanging from the purse and the large phallus, which are now missing. The bronze was probably acquired in 1657 by Pope Alexander VII (Fabio Chigi); see Cacciotti 2004, p. 12, pl. 4, fig. 9; and Krautheimer and Jones 1975, p. 206, no. 136. It is still listed in an inventory of the Chigi collection dated 1770; see Documenti inediti per servire alla storia dei musei d’Italia, vol. 4 (Florence-Rome, 1880), p. 410. A copy of this bronze made in the late seventeenth century is now in the Antikensammlung in Berlin; see Beger, 1696‑1701, vol. 3, p. 266.

13 Inv. Fr 1972; height: 7.5 cm. Friederichs, 1871, p. 422, no. 1972.

14 See the selection in Grant et al., 1975, p. 138‑143; Johns, 1982, p. 67‑71; and Varone, 2000, p. 18, fig. 9 (from Herculaneum).

15 Burkert, 1985, p. 156.

16 Naples, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, inv. No. 27854; Grant et al., 1975, p. 134‑5; Johns, 1982, p. 70, fig. 39; and Varone, 2000, p. 19, fig. 11.

17 Grant et al., 1975, p. 141; Franken 2004.

18 Ortiz, 1994, no. 227; the bell also served as an oil lamp.

19 Varone, 2000, p. 14, fig. 1.

20 Baird, 1981‑82, provides an extensive discussion of the topic, often far-fetched but with a considerable amount of useful information, including on the Hermes-cock figure (p. 91‑93).

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1. Private collection. Red jasper in bronze ring. Athena-owl. 2nd century AD
Crédits Photo: author
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/pallas/docannexe/image/11101/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 172k
Titre Fig. 2. Private collection. Sardonyx cameo in gold mount. Ares-cock. Late 2nd century AD
Crédits Photo: author
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/pallas/docannexe/image/11101/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 168k
Titre Fig. 3a-b. Private collection. Banded agate. Frontally facing head of Hermes-cock. Early 1st century AD. Original and impression
Crédits Photo: author
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/pallas/docannexe/image/11101/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 304k
Titre Fig. 4. London, British Museum, inv. GR 1814.7‑4.415. Bronze tintinnabulum depicting a Hermes-cock
Crédits Photo courtesy of the British Museum
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/pallas/docannexe/image/11101/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 116k
Titre Fig. 5. Berlin, Antikensammlung, inv. Fr 1972. Bronze head of a Hermes-cock, detached from a tintinnabulum
Crédits Photo courtesy of the Antikensammlung, Berlin
URL http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/pallas/docannexe/image/11101/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 116k
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Jeffrey Spier, « Most Fowl: Athena, Ares, and Hermes Depicted as Birds on Engraved Gems »Pallas, 83 | 2010, 245-250.

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Jeffrey Spier, « Most Fowl: Athena, Ares, and Hermes Depicted as Birds on Engraved Gems »Pallas [En ligne], 83 | 2010, mis en ligne le 01 octobre 2010, consulté le 23 mai 2024. URL : http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/pallas/11101 ; DOI : https://0-doi-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/10.4000/pallas.11101

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Auteur

Jeffrey Spier

University of Arizona, Tucson

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