Centaur from 9226
Death woman w mirror for blog

Last month we mentioned Venus and her son by a human man. That son was said to have been an ancestor of Julius Caesar.

Venus (Aphrodite) had a lot of lovers, and this month we have a picture of one of them, Adonis. She really liked him (because she had been pricked by an arrow from the quiver of her son, Eros). She became despondent when Adonis was killed by a wild boar.

Anyhow, in this picture we see Adonis sitting on her lap getting a shoulder rub, and probably a back scratch. That got me to thinking . . . isn't this the sort of relationship any of us would like to have with whatever deity we worship? Wouldn't we like God Almighty to scratch our back?

Well, God is good to us . . . that's what the 23rd Psalm is about. ("The Lord is my shepherd . . .")

However the Bible makes it clear that God made us for a purpose. We have responsibility to care for other people and to care for God's world. We don't spend our lives sitting on God's lap getting our shoulders rubbed!

This sketch is from a Greek vase in Florence. I found it in an old book: Buschor, Ernst (tr. G. C. Richards). Greek Vase-Painting. London: Chatto and Windus, 1921, plate XCI, opposite p. 151.

Since this book is in the public domain in the USA, you can use this picture any way you desire.

 

 

August 2021

July is named for Roman Emperor Julius Caesar, so it seems appropriate to show a picture of one of his coins.

Julius Caesar considered himself to be descended from the Goddess Venus (goddess of love, etc.). Venus, according to Roman mythology, was the mother of a hero named Aeneas, who had been chosen by the gods to escape from defeated Troy so he could make his way to the site of Rome and establish it as a great city.

Of course Romulus and Remus were the original founders of Rome, but Aeneas was to make it great.

The "heads" side of this coin shows the face of Venus in profile. We are looking at the "tail" side, which shows Aeneas carrying his aged father on his left shoulder, and a statue called the "Palladium" in his right hand. The statue is an image of the goddess Athena, and possessing it guaranteed greatness for Rome. Notice that the coin identifies Caesar as the new Aeneas. Nothing subtle there.

The coin is displayed in the Roman National Museum-Palazzo Massimo. Photo by Richard Davies with the usual permission and restriction.

 

July 2021

June 2021

In 1 Corinthians 13:12, St. Paul wrote (according to the King James version), "Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face." A modern English translation (NET Bible) says, ". . . see in a mirror indirectly . . ." and that is a better translation, but still doesn't capture what Paul was saying. He said something like "We see in a mirror and see a riddle."

Ancient mirrors reflected quite well, but lighting in ancient rooms was terrible. If you had a lamp near your face, you could see your face well in the mirror, but if someone was standing behind you in the doorway, the mirror would not tell you who it was because the light was so poor. That's the "riddle" Paul was talking about.

His point was that we cannot "see" the heavenly life. It's a riddle, like looking in a mirror to see who is in the doorway. Someday we'll know what heaven is about.

Ancient mirrors were expensive, so they came with metal covers to protect them. Here we see a mirror cover from the ancient city of Corinth. It is on display in the Corinth museum.

Photo by Richard Davies. Feel free to use it under terms of a creative commons license. Please give credit to the photographer and don't use it for commercial purposes.

Here are a couple of scientific investigations into ancient mirror quality:

Enoch, Jay M. "History of Mirrors Dating Back 8,000 Years" in Optometry and Vision Science, Oct. 2006, pp. 775-781.

Ingo, G. M., et. al. "Bronze Roman Mirrors: The Secret of Brightness" in Applied Physics-A (Materials Science and Processing), 2006, pp. 611-615.

Also, take a look at my book, Stories that St. Paul Told and Almost Told (or Might Have Told), pp. 49-56. (Hit the "Books" tab above.

 

The picture is probably a priest's vestment decoration from the middle of the 7th century, BCE. It is what came to be called a "centaur," a critter that is part human and part horse, or some related animal. This is an early depiction of such a critter. Notice that it is not clear that the animal part and the human part are joined. The forelegs are the legs of the man, and the man is even wearing a loincloth.

   Even so, the man is wild. He has caught some animal and is holding it by the neck. It is hard to say what is going on with his right hand.

   This decoration is from Mesopotamia, but the headdress looks like something from Egypt. I don't know what to say about that.

   The most interesting thing to me about this is what we read in the biblical book of Isaiah. Chapter 34, verse 14, the King James Version makes reference to "satyrs" in the God-forsaken wilderness. They usually translate that Hebrew word as "goat." Why is it "satyr" here? The Septaugint, the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, translates that Hebrew word as "donkey-centaur." Maybe that is what is depicted on this vestment decoration. Isaiah was probably written within a century of when this vestment decoration was being used, and in the ancient world there was not much cultural change within a hundred years one way or another.

   By the way, KJV uses the word "satyr" in Isa. 13:21, but the word is not the same.

   So this guy doesn't look unfriendly, but in the picture we see that he has his dinner. If he didn't, maybe he would eat you!

   You can see this in the Louvre, Bj2169. If you use this phjoto, give credit to Richard Davies. No commercial use, please.

April 2021

Is this month's picture funny or sad? This Greek vase depicts a woman in the tomb being visited by mourners bearing gifts. It is a common theme on ancient Greek vases, and each such depiction tells us something about the deceased person. In this case the deceased woman is admiring herself in a mirror. Notice the fancy hair style and the fancy orange (or red) shawl.

   The ancients knew what happens to a body after the person dies. Everyone recognized the worthlessness of a body without a soul.

   In the Bible, Psalm 6:5 is a plea for God to help the writer, saying, in effect, "I will be worthless to you after I am dead." St. Paul seemed to disagree with the Psalmist, saying that we will have a new, "spiritual body" after we die. In any case, we won't be admiring ourselves in the mirror after we die. This picture is either pathetic or funny.

   The vase is in the British Museum, GR1824.5-1.29, #F-351. Photo by Richard Davies. No commercial use, please.

May 2021

There are lots of dysfunctional families in the mythological tales. Here's one: Danaus and Aegyptus were twin brothers, but had a falling out. Danaus had 50 daughters and Aegyptus had 50 sons. After some real troubles, they agreed to have the sons marry the daughters . . . but Danaus got his daughters to agree to murder their husbands on the wedding night. 49 of them did this. Finally, the surviving son killed Danaus and the 49 daughters.

   On earth, the daughters had been good at finding water sources, so in Hades they endure an appropriate punishment: they carry water to fill up a large bottomless jar. In the picture we see a composite photo of a Greek vase from about 340 BC, showing three of the daughters carrying water. 

   Another version of the story is that they carry the water in leaky jars. St. Paul probably wasn't thinking about this myth when he wrote 2 Cor. 4:7-11, but maybe the folks in Corinth who received the letter were reminded of the story. We are the jars, not the water-carriers, so the connection is not close, but . . .

   This vase is in the British Museum, Vase F-210. You are free to use this photo, but not for commercial purposes. Give credit to Richard Davies.

March 2021

John the Baptist spoke of Jesus, saying "After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie." (Mark 1:7) This month's picture is the foot from a bronze statue of a Roman soldier. The rest of the statue no longer exists.

Today we have lots of styles of shoes, and ancient statues show us that they also had many styles of sandals. Probably the soldiers had sandals that were more elaborate than the sandals worn by ordinary people, but the sandal on this foot is worth contemplating.

It must have been really difficult to lace up this complicated sandal and get it tight enough for service, but not so tight that it hurt. We can imagine that there were slaves assigned to properly put on the master's sandals in the morning and take them off at night.

Maybe the job assigned to this slave is what John was talking about. Think about having to lace up a soldier's sandal day after day after day . . . Wow!

This bronze foot is displayed in the archaeological museum of Bologna, Italy. I saw it in a traveling exhibition. As always, you can use this photo freely as long as you do not use it for commercial purposes and as long as you give credit to the photographer, Richard Davies.

February 2021

Helios had the responsibility for driving the chariot of the sun across the sky every day. As it happens, he was also Apollo, the god of music as well as having a bunch of other responsibilities. How could he be spending full time driving the chariot and still take care of other responsibilities? Good question.

   One time he let his young son drive the chariot and it was a disaster. The boy got too close to earth when flying over Africa and burned the place up. So Helios could not delegate his chariot-driving responsibility.

   We start the year in January because we look forward to the time when the days will get longer. We look forward to more sunlight. More attention from Helios.

   This somewhat worn statue is in the museum garden of the Glyptothek in Munich, Germany. You are welcome to use this picture under a creative commons license. Please give credit to the photographer, Richard Davies, and do not use this picture for any commercial purpose.

January 2021

In the Christian part of our world, Christmas brings to mind angels. The word "angel" makes reference to their role as messengers of God, and that's their role in the Christmas story. The angel Gabriel announces the coming birth of John the Baptist, then announces the coming birth of Jesus. (Read the whole story in Luke, chapters 1 and 2.)

Here is a picture of an angel from an uncertain location about 600 or 700 years before the birth of Jesus. Maybe the artist didn't intend to depict an angel, but let's call it an angel. I see at least two interesting things here. Notice the angel's left hand. It seem to be signaling a "peace" greeting. Angels were creatures to be feared, and that's why Gabriel said to Mary, "Don't be afraid."

Second thing I notice: The angel's right hand is holding something. What? Maybe a scroll? In ancient society a scroll was a sign of authority as well as the content of a message. Maybe the right hand holds some other symbol of authority.

I would like to think it is a scroll, a message from God about peace.

You can see this little item in the Louvre, Bj3, Collection Campana, 1863.

Photo by Richard Davies. You may use it under a "creative commons" license. Give credit to Richard Davies as photographer. Do not use for commercial purposes.

December 2020

Here is a Greek jug showing Zeus and Nike next to an altar fire. Nike (goddess of victory) is holding a libation pan, a shallow bowl from which wine was poured on an altar fire. It was probably in prehistoric times that people discovered that alcohol burns with a nice looking flame, and this may explain why they poured wine on an altar.

There are many depictions of the deities making burnt offerings, and this may seem strange. Realize that Zeus was king of the deities and it seems really strange that he would be making an offering, maybe an offering to himself! Maybe all the pictures of deities making offerings were intended to convince people that they also should make offerings.

By the way, notice that Nike has wings. She is one of the few deities with wings, but she is a goddess, not an angel.

We are in the season of "Thanksgiving." In Canada the celebration is in October, while the celebration is in November in the U.S.A. We thank God for many blessings, but we don't do so by burning up a bunch of food! (At least not intentionally.) Many people celebrate by offering food to the hungry, and that's really appropriate.

You can see this vase in the British Museum, item GR 1895.8-31.1. Photo by Richard Davies. You may use this photo under the provisions of creative commons. Please give credit to Richard Davies and do not use the photo for commercial purposes.

November 2020

Papposilenos was considered to be the "father" of all the strange guys who accompanied the god, Dionysus. He was depicted as an old guy with a pot belly and usually drunk. In the drama, "The Cyclops," by Euripides, the Silenus character says that there is no joy where there is no wine.

   The thought was that he was wise when he was drunk. If you wanted wisdom, get him drunk and then listen to him. 

   As it happened, his "wisdom" was pretty dark. He said that the best thing for a person is to not be born, but if you do have the misfortune of being born, the next best thing is to die as soon as possible. 

   This dark wisdom is pretty amazing because it comes from the tutor/companion of the party-god, and this companion accompanied the "joyous" processions by playing music for the followers of the god.

   Actually we find similar traits today in certain people. Maybe times haven't changed that much.

   This statue was placed in the Theatre of Dionysus located at the base of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. It dates to Roman times, and may have been there when St. Paul visited the city.

   Feel free to use this picture as long as you give credit to Richard E. Davies as photographer and do not use it for commercial purposes.

 

October 2020

This goddess is really strange. She is the version of Artemis (or Diana) that was worshipped at the great temple in Ephesus (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, because it was so huge). See the New Testament book of Acts, chapter 19, verses 23-41.

   Remember that Artemis was goddess of the hunt, and she liked to run free in the forest wearing a short skirt, carrying a bow and arrows, accompanied by her dog and several female companions. Do you think she could run in this tight skirt?

   Anyhow, the city of Ephesus was really good at public relations, and they convinced a lot of people that their version was the real Artemis. They told the world that she had been born in the hills, not far from the city of Ephesus, and that the great temple was her real home.

  People came from all over the ancient world to worship at this temple. Although Ephesus was a large city (maybe the fourth largest in the Roman Empire), with lots of trade, a big part of their economy was temple tourism.

   When we look at statues of Ephesian Artemis we see an ancient version of denominations. Not Christian denominations, but Artemis denominations. I guess denominationalism is part of the human psyche.

  This statue is in the Vatican museums. Photo by Richard E. Davies. You can re-use this photo under a creative commons license. Give credit to the photographer and do not use the photo for any commercial purpose.

September 2020

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