Friday, January 18, 2008

Friday Archaeology Blogging
Interactive Edition

Gentle readers, I am need of your aid. I've been working on a little project related to Greek mythology, and in the course of it I came across this image:

Click the image for a truly gigantic version.

The provenance of the piece is unknown, although it originally decorated the base of a statue of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, and probably dates to the third century A.D. The statue was part of the collection of Cardinal Albani, and was set up in his villa at Porta Salaria in about 1763. When the Papal States capitulated to Napoleon in 1797, the piece was seized under the terms of the Treaty of Tolentino, and taken to France. Although it was formally returned to the Vatican in 1815, Louis XVIII of France re-purchased it along with several other confiscated works of art, and it resides today in the Louvre.

What is depicted on the relief is the creation of the human race from clay by the Titan Prometheus. He is seated, in the shade of a tree, on the right hand side of the image, and is just finishing the moulding of a male figure. On the left side of the image is the goddess Minerva, easily recognizable by her helmet and spear, and by the gorgon's head on her breastplate. Between them a number of newly created people are cavorting about.

My question for you folks is this: What is Minerva holding in her right hand, and what is she doing with it? It looks a little bit like a bird (her iconic owl, perhaps?), but if so she's holding it in a very strange way. Anyway, post theories, speculation, ideas, etc. in the comments! Also, if you have any thoughts on who the being in the tree is, I'd love to hear those as well! For the record, the project was simply to find images of Prometheus; I'm interested in the Minerva figure out of mere curiosity.


Niles said...

I vote for a drop spindle. Minerva is associated with that. I'm projecting on what she's doing with it, but I have seen kids playing with a drop spindle as one might a top, so could she be handing it to one of the cavorters as a toy?

Bazz said...

I think, sir, that you are quite probably correct with that (I'd forgotten about the myth of Arachne)! I wonder, here, if it's standing in as a representation of "techne," with Minerva/Athena is supposed to have given to mortals via Prometheus?

Thank you for the excellent suggestion!

Jonathan Panther said...

This is from a Bacchus statue...please research a "Thyrsus" and you will have your answer.