Wordless Wednesday Picture Gallery

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Medusa, by Caravaggio 1597.
May 14, 2008 Medusa, by Caravaggio 1597. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

These are the paintings and other artwork that has appeared on this site on the weekly Wordless Wednesday blogs. Some of these are paintings on ancient pottery or frescoes showing scenes composed by ancient people. Others are paintings by some of the world's most famous painters. There are also pictures like the map of Herodotus' world view that is just a guess, with no intrinsic artistic value. Finally, there are photos of actual ancient artifacts.


In the stories of the Greek heroes, Medusa was one of the Gorgon sisters whose hideous, snake-haired head, the hero Perseus severed using a mirror given him by the gods so he wouldn't have to face her. Had he looked at her face, Medusa would have turned him to stone. Even after he had decapitated Medusa, Perseus couldn't look at her because her head retained its petrifying power.

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Daedalus Launches Icarus

Daedalus and Icarus, by Charles Paul Landon, 1799.
May 21, 2008 Daedalus and Icarus, by Charles Paul Landon, 1799. CC Schockwellenreiter @ Flickr.com

Daedalus and Icarus

Daedalus was a grandson of Erectheus of Athens. He was a clever craftsman credited with various inventions. After killing his pupil/nephew Talos or Perdix, who invented the saw, because Perdix promised to be at least as talented as his jealous mentor, Daedalus fled to Crete and King Minos. Daedalus created the labyrinth to house Minos' stepson, the part-bull, part-human Minotaur. Daedalus and his son, Icarus were imprisoned by King Minos, either in a tower or in the labyrinth, and later escaped by means of wings of wax Daedalus crafted.

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Rembrandt - Zeus and Ganymede

Rembrandt - Rape of Ganymede
May 28, 2008 Rembrandt - Rape of Ganymede. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Zeus and Ganymede

When Zeus kidnapped the most beautiful of mortals, the Trojan prince Ganymede, from Mt. Ida, he paid Ganymede's father with immortal horses. Ganymede's father was King Tros, the eponymous founder of Troy. Ganymede replaced Hebe as cupbearer for the gods.

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Herodotus' World View

Map Showing Herodotus' View of the Ancient World
June 4, 2008 Map Showing Herodotus' View of the Ancient World. Clipart.com

Herodotus' world view did not include the New World. The Pillars of Hercules marked the western end of the landmass.

Herodotus World View

Herodotus says the following about map-makers before him:

"I wonder then at those who have parted off and divided the world into Libya, Asia, and Europe, since the difference between these is not small; for in length Europe extends along by both, while in breadth it is clear to me that it is beyond comparison larger; for Libya furnishes proofs about itself that it is surrounded by sea, except so much of it as borders upon Asia...."
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Aegeus Consults the Pythia

Pythia - Aegeus Consults the Pythia Seated on a Tripod. By the Kodros Painter, c. 440-430 B.C.
Themis provides King Aegeus with an oracle Attic Red-figure. Themis (Pythia) - Aegeus Consults the Pythia Seated on a Tripod. By the Kodros Painter, c. 440-430 B.C. Museum Collection: Antiken-sammlung, Berlin, Germany. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Representation of a consultation with an oracle. (More below....)

Theseus was a Greek hero whose name crops up in so many stories there was an old saying that "Theseus had a hand in it." His stories begin before his birth, since his father -- or at least his mortal father -- King Aegeus (Αιγέας) of Athens, had trouble producing an heir. These were in the days before fertility tests, so instead of contacting a clinic, the Athenian king consulted an oracle.

The kylix in the picture is attributed to the ancient Athenian Kodrus (Codrus) painter. Above the figures in the copy of this picture in Frank Egleston Robbins' article, "The Lot Oracle at Delphi," are the names Aegeus and Themis, a goddess. [Actually, a titan.] Themis was the goddess of the Delphic oracle before Apollo took over, but such chronology is not crucial here. Here she has all the trappings of the Pythia, a priestess of Apollo, according to Robbins. He argues the column between the two figures shows that the scene takes place within the sanctuary. The laurel is a symbol of Apollo. Themis, seated on the oracular tripod, stares intently into the dish (phiale). She is about to reveal the message Aegeus seeks.

Priestesses > Pythia

Apollo's Pythian priestess at Delphi was the most important ancient oracle. She had to be celibate for life. For each of nine months of the year, she gave prophecies on a single day. Six hundred hexameters survive of her oracles. She sat on the tripod where it seems gases exuded and may have changed her mental state. While the pythia spoke her oracles in hexameters, The great Greek tragedian Euripides puts a different meter, trimeters, in the mouth of the oracle.

Euripides wrote a famous tragedy about the sorceress Medea who escapes the scene of her crime of killing her children by the intervention of a crane (mechane), a technique known as deus ex machina, a god from the machine. Lifted aloft, she will escape punishment.

In "The Aegeus Episode and the Theme of Euripides' Medea," Roger Dunkle calls the appearance of Aegeus in the center of this play apparently unmotivated, but it gave ancient writers following Euripides and modern readers an opportunity to understand the connection between Medea and Aegeus as well as a bit of information about the prophecy. The following (translated) exchange between King Aegeus and Medea before her escape shows that Aegeus has received an oracle that puzzles him:

" MEDEA: What said the god? speak, if I may hear it.
AEGEUS: He bade me "not loose the wineskin's pendent neck." [The Greek for this is the trimeter referred to above.]
MEDEA: Till when? what must thou do first, what country visit?
AEGEUS: Till I to my native home return.
MEDEA: What object hast thou in sailing to this land?
AEGEUS: O'er Troezen's realm is Pittheus king.
MEDEA: Pelops' son, a man devout they say.
AEGEUS: To him I fain would impart the oracle of the god.
MEDEA: The man is shrewd and versed in such-like lore.
AEGEUS: Aye, and to me the dearest of all my warrior friends. "

Euripides Medea

In the following section, Medea promises to help Aegeus resolve his childless state [presumably, should he fail at the court of the king of Troezen]. Aegeus, in turn, promises to let Medea stay with him in Athens if she can get herself there from Corinth. Later, Medea's shenanigans at Aegeus' court when Theseus presents himself there, as a grown man, will almost lead Aegeus to kill his son [see Minotaur story summary].

Anthony Keen, in "'Undoing the Wineskin's Foot': Athenian Slang?," says that some consider Aegeus a bit dense, to the point of becoming a stock character in comedy. Later in the Theseus legend, Aegeus does something else that is hard to understand. He jumps to his death into the sea that bears his name (the Aegean) because he thinks his son has been killed. He is king. He is in charge of the people of Athens -- not just his immediate family. It is puzzling that he would give up on everything just because his son forgot to change the sails, and not even wait to hear what happened or perform funeral rites for his son, but maybe his mind always worked in odd ways.

Aegeus did not understand loosening the foot of the wineskin as a metaphor for intercourse (or urination, as Keen adds) even though he was asking the oracle how he could produce a son. The expression may have been Attic slang and, incidentally, one of the lines of vulgarity for which Euripides was criticized.

Keen does not, however, think Aegeus is stupid. Yes, in comparison with the brilliant Medea he and everyone else may be inferior, but Aegeus may also think literally. Literally, the advice could refer to abstinence from drinking wine. If so, Aegeus violates the divinely inspired advice by getting drunk with the king of Troezen.

Plutarch describes Aegeus' trip to Troezen -- where he was heading in the passage from Euripides' Medea:

"Aegeus, being desirous of children, and consulting the oracle of Delphi, received the celebrated answer which forbade him the company of any woman before his return to Athens. But the oracle being so obscure as not to satisfy him that he was clearly forbid this, he went to Troezen, and communicated to Pittheus the voice of the god, which was in this manner,--

Loose not the wine-skin foot, thou chief of men, Until to Athens thou art come again. "
From The Life of Theseus, by Plutarch in his Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans

Aegeus goes to Troezen whose king, Pittheus, understands the riddle. Pittheus has a daughter Aethra whom he arranges for Aegeus to impregnate after getting Aegeus drunk. By doing so, Aegeus has untied the protruding foot of the wineskin before he reached home and his legal wife.

David Kovacs, in "And Baby Makes Three: Aegeus' Wife as Mother‐to‐Be of Theseus in Euripides' Medea," argues that this makes the prophecy false (whether by getting drunk or having intercourse before reaching home) since Aegeus succeeds in producing an heir. It's not conceivable that the word of the god would be wrong, so there has to be something else. Kovacs argues that Euripides was aware of another version of events. In this, Aegeus obeys the prophecy. He impregnates Aethra, but she is in Athens and is already his legal wife.

Another competing story of the impregnation of Aethra and conception of Theseus makes the god Poseidon the hero's father.


  • "And Baby Makes Three: Aegeus' Wife as Mother‐to‐Be of Theseus in Euripides' Medea"
    David Kovacs
    Classical Philology, Vol. 103, No. 3 (July 2008), pp. 298-304
  • "The Lot Oracle at Delphi"
    Frank Egleston Robbins
    Classical Philology, Vol. 11, No. 3 (Jul., 1916), pp. 278-292
  • "Theseus the King in Fifth-Century Athens"
    John N. Davie
    Greece & Rome, Second Series, Vol. 29, No. 1 (Apr., 1982), pp. 25-34
  • "'Undoing the Wineskin's Foot': Athenian Slang?"
    Antony G. Keen
    The Classical Quarterly, New Series, Vol. 59, No. 2 (Dec., 2009), pp. 626-631
  • "The Aegeus Episode and the Theme of Euripides' Medea"
    J. Roger Dunkle
    Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association
    Vol. 100, (1969), pp. 97-107
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Fall of Phaethon

Fall of Phaethon, by Johann Liss (1597-1629/30).
June 18, 2008 Fall of Phaethon, by Johann Liss (1597-1629/30). Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

This painting shows the results of the sun god's indulgence of his son. (More below....)

Fall of Phaethon

Also see: Amber

Phaethon was the son of the doting sun god Helios who offered his son whatever he wanted. Phaethon said he wanted to drive his father's chariot. Although Helios tried to dissuade his son, Phaethon couldn't be prevented. It was, of course, a dangerous and ultimately fatal trip.

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Odysseus Safely Listens to the Sirens

John William Waterhouse (1849-1917), ''Ulysses and the Sirens'' (1891).
June 25, 2008 John William Waterhouse (1849-1917), ''Ulysses and the Sirens'' (1891). Public Domain. By John William Waterhouse (1891). Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Waterhouse depicts Odysseus safely listening to the Sirens. (More below....)

Odyssey Book XII

Odysseus and the Sirens.

It wasn't impossible to get by the sirens. Odysseus' men had wax plugging their ears. The Argonauts got by with the help of Orpheus' music. It wasn't common though to pass by unaided, yet Odysseus did so. To prevent his jumping into the water to his death, he had himself tied to the mast.

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Death of Lucretia

From Botticelli - The Death of Lucretia
July 2, 2008 From Botticelli - The Death of Lucretia. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The rape and subsequent suicide of Lucretia was one of the momentous events leading to the collapse of the Roman monarchy, in Roman legend.

Death of Lucretia

The Roman attitude towards women and rape was such that rape was a property crime against the husband or paterfamilias. The story of Lucretia (who stabbed herself rather than allow her name to go through posterity tainted) epitomizes the shame felt by Roman victims.

Lucretia had been such a model of Roman feminine virtue that she inflamed the lust of Sextus Tarquin, the son of the king, Tarquinius Superbus, to the point that he arranged to accost her in private. When she resisted his pleas, he threatened to place her naked, dead body beside that of a male slave in the same state so that it would look like adultery. The threat worked and Lucretia permitted the violation.

Following the rape, Lucretia told her male relatives, elicited a promise for revenge, and stabbed herself. Shortly after the rape of Lucretia, the Romans rebelled against their king, the last Roman king was overthrown, and the Roman Republic began. Because of this sequence of events, you might claim the rape triggered a revolution and, perhaps, the first republic. [If you're looking for a Roman history paper topic, researching and arguing about these claims might prove fruitful.]

Livy in Book I.57-60 of his Ab urbe condita and Dionysius of Halicarnassus in Book IV of his Roman Antiquities describe the dramatic unfolding of events.

Here is Livy's version of the death scene shown in the Botticelli painting:

"Lucretia, overwhelmed with grief at such a frightful outrage, sent a messenger to her father at Rome and to her husband at Ardea, asking them to come to her, each accompanied by one faithful friend; it was necessary to act, and to act promptly; a horrible thing had happened. Spurius Lucretius came with Publius Valerius, the son of Volesus; Collatinus with Lucius Junius Brutus, with whom he happened to be returning to Rome when he was met by his wife's messenger. They found Lucretia sitting in her room prostrate with grief. As they entered, she burst into tears, and to her husband's inquiry whether all was well, replied, "No! what can be well with a woman when her honour is lost? The marks of a stranger, Collatinus, are in your bed. But it is only the body that has been violated, the soul is pure; death shall bear witness to that. But pledge me your solemn word that the adulterer shall not go unpunished. It is Sextus Tarquin, who, coming as an enemy instead of a guest, forced from me last night by brutal violence a pleasure fatal to me, and, if you are men, fatal to him." They all successively pledged their word, and tried to console the distracted woman by turning the guilt from the victim of the outrage to the perpetrator, and urging that it is the mind that sins, not the body, and where there has been no consent there is no guilt. "It is for you," she said, "to see that he gets his deserts; although I acquit myself of the sin, I do not free myself from the penalty; no unchaste woman shall henceforth live and plead Lucretia's example." She had a knife concealed in her dress which she plunged into her heart, and fell dying on the floor. Her father and husband raised the death-cry."
Livy I.58

In the version of Dionysius, Lucretia's father (Lucretius) summons the witnesses and then dispatches a Sabine named Publius Valerius to tell Lucretia's husband, Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus, who was not present at the death scene:

67 When, in response to his hasty and urgent summons, the most prominent men had come to his house as she desired, she began at the beginning and told them all that had happened. Then, after embracing her father and addressing many entreaties both to him and to all present and praying to the gods and other divinities to grant her a speedy departure from life, she drew the dagger she was keeping concealed under her robes, and plunging it into her breast, with a single stroke pierced her heart. 2 Upon this the women beat their breasts and filled the house with their shrieks and lamentations, but her father, enfolding her body in his arms, embraced it, and calling her by name again and again, ministered to her, as though she might recover from her wound, until in his arms, gasping and breathing out her life, she expired. This dreadful scene struck the Romans who were present with so much horror and compassion that they all cried out with one voice that they would rather die a thousand deaths in defence of their p481liberty than suffer such outrages to be committed by the tyrants. 3 There was among them a certain man, named Publius Valerius, a descendant of one of those Sabines who came to Rome with Tatius, and a man of action and prudence. This man was sent by them to the camp both to acquaint the husband of Lucretia with what had happened and with his aid to bring about a revolt of the army from the tyrants. 4
Dionysisius of Halicarnassus
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Saturn Devours His Children

Saturn Devouring His Son, by Goya
July 9, 2008 Saturn Devouring His Son, by Goya. Public Domain; courtesy of http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/goya/

Emergence of the Olympian Gods and Goddesses or Saturn Devours His Children

Saturn was one of the Titans, the children of Gaia and Ouranos (Earth and Sky). Since he had castrated his father, he feared that his children would do something similar to him, so to try to avoid his fate, he ate his children. Don't worry. One of the children of Saturn was Jupiter (Zeus) who survived, may have helped induce the vomiting of his brothers and sisters, and defeated his father and the other Titans.

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Prometheus Steals Fire for Mankind

Prometheus Brings Fire to Mankind, by Heinrich Friedrich Fuger, c. 1817
July 16, 2008 Prometheus Brings Fire to Mankind, by Heinrich Friedrich Fuger, c. 1817. PD Courtesy of Wikipedia

Prometheus Brings Fire to Mankind

Prometheus was a second generation Titan who was particularly fond of mankind. He violated the will of the king of the gods, Zeus, by bringing fire to mankind. For this and other "misdeeds," Prometheus was chained to a rock where a bird (probably an eagle) ate his liver -- daily since it grew back.

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Perseus Rescues Andromeda

Perseus Rescues Andromeda, by Piero di Cosimo, c. 1513.
July 23, 2008 Perseus Rescues Andromeda, by Piero di Cosimo, c. 1513. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Perseus Rescues Andromeda

Among the adventures of the Greek hero Perseus was the rescue of Andromeda from a sea monster, after which he married her.

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Theseus and Sinis

Theseus and Sinis. Tondo of an Attic red-figure kylix, 490-480 B.C.
July 30, 2008 Theseus and Sinis. Tondo of an Attic red-figure kylix, 490-480 B.C. Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich, Germany. PD Courtesy of Bibi Saint-Pol.

Sinis and Theseus

On Theseus' journey to Athens to reclaim his rightful place in the world, he showed his heroic prowess by dealing with villains on the road. Sinis was one of the people who tricked and tortured passers-by.

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Martyrdom of Pope Sixtus II Under Emperor Valerian

The martyrdom of Saint (Pope) Sixtus II and his deacons. By Richard de Montbaston. 14th C.
August 6, 2008 The Martyrdom of Pope Sixtus II and His Deacons. Richard de Monbaston and collaborators. 14th C. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

August 6, 258 is the date on which Pope Sixtus II (pope from August 30, 257-August 6, 258) is said to have been beheaded. The pope was executed by soldiers sent to a cemetery on the infamous Appian Way (where during the final years of the Roman Republic, the rival gangs of Clodius Pulcher and Milo had come to blows and where the slaves from Spartacus' rebellion wound up crucified) to apprehend Sixtus and his four deacons, as part of Emperor Valerian's persecution of Christians. Valerian had issued an edict against Christians assembling in cemeteries. This same edict also ordered them to participate in the cults of the Roman gods. Valerian then issued another edict ordering the execution of Christian priests.

The execution of Sixtus II is described in a letter of Cyprian, who was executed soon after (September 14, 258). Cyprian was bishop of Carthage. Pope Sixtus II had helped reconcile the churches of Rome with those of North Africa and Asia Minor over the issue of rebaptizing of heretics.

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Sack of Rome

Sack of Rome in 410 by Alaric the King of the Goths. Miniature from 15th Century.
August 20, 2008 Sack of Rome in 410 by Alaric the King of the Goths. Miniature from 15th Century. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Alaric the King of the Goths Sacks Rome on August 24, 410 A.D.

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Moses and the Pharaoh

Moses in front of Pharaoh by Haydar Hatemi, Persian Artist.
August 27, 2008 Moses in front of Pharaoh by Haydar Hatemi, Persian Artist. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Moses in front of Pharaoh
List of the 10 Plagues

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Bull-Leaping Fresco

Fresco of an acrobat on a bull with two female acrobats on either side. From Knossos.
September 3, 2008 Fresco of an acrobat on a bull with two female acrobats on either side. From Knossos. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Bronze Age
Bull-Leaping Fresco From Knossos

Current thinking is that the placement of the people may show either three stages of the bull-leaping or the women (white) as attendants while the male (red) alone leaps over the bull.

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Priest-King or Prince of Lilies

Prince of Lilies
September 10, 2008 Prince of Lilies. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikimedia.

Priest-King or Prince of Lilies (or something else entirely) Fresco From Knossos

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Minoan Labrys 2nd millennium BC
September 17, 2008 Minoan Labrys 2nd millennium BC. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikimedia


A labrys is a double-headed ​ax used for carpentry, military and religious (connected with bull sacrifices) purposes.

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So-called Sappho Fresco From Pompeii, c. 50 A.D.
September 24, 2008 So-called Sappho Fresco From Pompeii, c. 50 A.D. The woman wears a gold hairnet and holds a stylus and wax tablet. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

So-called Sappho Fresco From Pompeii

See also: Little House in Pompeii.

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King Tut

Sarcophagus of King Tut
October 1, 2008 Sarcophagus of King Tut. Scott Olson/Getty Images

King Tut

Tutankhamen is known as the boy pharaoh. Although we know little about his reign, we do have his actual sarcophagus and mummified body.

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Icon of Moses and the Burning Bush. Russian icon. 18th C. Kizhi monastery.
October 8, 2008 Icon of Moses and the Burning Bush. Russian icon. 18th C. Kizhi monastery. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.


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Babylonian Table of Squares

Senkareh Table of Squares
Senkareh Table of Squares. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/16161/16161-h/16161-h.htm - The Seven Great Monarchies, G. Rawlinson

George Rawlinson (1812-1902), shows a transcribed table of squares in The Seven Great Monarchies of the Ancient Eastern World. The table appears to be astronomical, based on the categories of Babylonian years.

See: Babylonian Table of Squares.

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Botticelli Augustine

Augustine, by Sandro Botticelli, c. 1480.
Augustine, by Sandro Botticelli, c. 1480. CC dvdbramhall @ Flickr.com

In this fresco, Botticelli shows Augustine in his cell meditating. The fresco may have been commissioned for Amerigo Vespucci's father.

Web Gallery of Art says in this scene Augustine has just seen a vision of the death of St. Jerome.

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House of the Venus Marina

Venus in a Half Shell From Pompeii
Venus in a Half Shell From Pompeii. CC bengal*foam at Flickr.

The House of the Marine Venus, named for this fresco, is located near the Palaestra in Region II of Pompeii.

This painting shows Venus on a half shell with Cupid and a nereid on a dolphin. The Venus is described as having curls, a billowing shawl and golden jewelry. It is on the rear wall of the peristyle.

In the roman single-family domus home (as opposed to an insula or villa) the house was divided into the atrium and peristyle. The peristyle held the private areas of the home and was centered on a colonnaded outdoor area.

For comprehensive information on Pompeii, see , by Mary Beard.

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Peutinger Tablet

Section of the Tabula Peutingeriana
Section of the Tabula Peutingeriana showing Dalmatian coast, Adriatic Sea, southern Italy, Sicily, African Mediterranean coast. Public Domain. Part of Tabula Peutingeriana, Konrad Miller´s facsimile from 1887
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Porcia wounding her thigh by Elisabetta Sirani (1638 - 1665). Courtesy of Wikipedia.
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Balder and Mistletoe

18th century Icelandic manuscript showing Balder being Killed by Hod and Loki.
Balder being Killed by Hod and Loki. Public Domain. In Árni Magnússon Institute in Iceland.

Balder and Mistletoe

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Forgotten Legion

The Forgotten Legion
The Forgotten Legion. St. Martin's Press

Forgotten Legion

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Caravaggio's Saturn
Saturnus Polidoro Caldara da Caravaggio 16th century. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia


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Ravenna mosaic of the Magi from the 6th Century
Ravenna mosaic of the Magi from the 6th Century. CC Nina-no
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Stele 51 from Calakmul on display at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.
Stele 51 from Calakmul on display at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. Thelmadatter
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Victory Stele of Naram-Sin

Victory Stele of Naram-Sin
Victory Stele of Naram-Sin, King of Akkad and Grandson of Sargon of Akkad. At the Louvre. Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons.
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Stoic Philosopher Marcus Aurelius

Bust of Marcus Aurelius. Glyptothek, Munich, Germany
Bust of Marcus Aurelius. Glyptothek, Munich, Germany. PD Bibi Saint-Pol
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Tajin Human Sacrifice Scene

Tajin Human Sacrifice Scene
Tajin Human Sacrifice Scene. CC Ilhuicamina @ Flickr.com.

Inscribed stones bear witness to the Maya practice of human sacrifice. Precious feathers appear where blood would be expected coming from the wounds in some depictions of Maya human sacrifice ritual. Perhaps this symbolizes how valuable the life-giving fluid is to the gods.

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Cupid and Psyche

L'Amour et Psyché
L'Amour et Psyché, by François-Édouard Picot. 1819. Wikipedia

The love story with which Cupid is chiefly associated comes from The Golden Ass or Metamorphoses. This early, risque novel was written by a second century Algerian Apuleius, who ran into trouble when he was charged with magic.

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Cupids and Psyche

Wall Fragment with Cupids and Psyche making Perfume Roman A.D. 50-75 Fresco.
Wall Fragment with Cupids and Psyche making Perfume Roman 50-75 CE Fresco, by mharrsch. Photographed at the Getty Villa in Malibu, California. CC. mharrsch at Flickr.com.
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Tereus Confronted with the Head of his Son Itys
Rubens: "Tereus Confronted with the Head of his Son Itys", 1636–1638. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Procne was the sister of Philomela and married to the Thracian prince Tereus who betrayed her. When he was on the verge of killing her, Procne and her sister were turned into birds, one a nightingale and the other a swallow. Tereus was turned into a hoopee or hawk.

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Ancient Olympics

Discus Thrower at the British Museum - Photo by Alun Salt at Flickr
Discus Thrower at the British Museum - Photo by Alun Salt at Flickr. Photo by Alun Salt at Flickr

In the 18th Olympiad, the pentathlon and wrestling were added to races in the Olympics. Pentathlon was the name for the five events in Greek gymnastics: running, jumping, wrestling, discus throwing, and javelin throwing.

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Qin Dynasty Pot

Qin Dynasty Pot
Qin Dynasty Three-Legged Pot. CC AndrewEick at Flickr.com

The Qin or Ch'in (likely origin of "China") existed during the Warring States Period and came to power as a dynasty (221-206/207 B.C.) by unifying China under its first emperor, Shi Huangdi (Shih Huang-ti).

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Wine Cup With Drunk Man

Wine Cup Fragment with a Drunk Man
Wordless Wednesday Picture Gallery Greek, made in Athens, about 500 B.C. Terracotta. A man supporting himself on a walking stick bends over to vomit. On display at the Getty Villa, Malibu, California. CC stevelyon

In the ancient Mediterranean world, diluted wine, the gift of Dionysus, was the favored beverage, preferred to water, and drunk in moderation. Control was normally counted a virtue, but there were exceptions. Drunken behavior in the ancient world led to a variety of consequences, from horrible to humorous.

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Tang Dynasty Chinese Zodiac Figures

Tang Dynasty Chinese Zodiac Figures
Ancient Chinese Ceramics Earthenware with white slip and traces of pigment. Early Tang Dynasty. 7th-8th century. Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Paul Gill

The earliest appearance of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac in funerary sculpture comes from the Wei Dynasty. Many sets of the zodiac figures show humans with animal heads.

Chinese years are named for the following 12 animals:

  • Rat
  • Ox
  • Tiger
  • Rabbit
  • Dragon
  • Snake
  • Horse
  • Sheep
  • Monkey
  • Rooster
  • Dog
  • Boar
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Bamiyan Buddhas

Buddhas of Bamiyan, Afghanistan
Wordless Wednesday Photo of a Destroyed Bamiyan Buddha Buddhas of Bamiyan, Afghanistan. CC Carl Montgomery at Flickr.com

The Taliban destroyed pre-Islamic Buddha sculptures in the Bamiyan Valley, a once flourishing Buddhist center along the Silk Road.

The statues of the the Buddhas offended many of the Taliban, so they destroyed them, as once, long ago, Moses did to an offensive Golden Calf. Had Moses dynamited Aaron's idol in the 21st century, would the rest of the world have been upset? Whose Culture? looks at some of the practical, ethical, moral, and philosophical issues involved in the management of artifacts. Is it ever ethical for a museum to purchase looted material? What about other Buddhist artifacts in Afghanistan or Iraq removed before war or officials could demolish them? Were the Taliban justified in destroying the Buddhas? Is it even the business of people outside Afghanistan? Should archaeology journals publish all findings in order to increase the world's knowledge or should they restrict themselves to those that are properly provenanced for fear that otherwise they are condoning looting?

  • Whose Culture?
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Lely's Venus (Aphrodite)
1st or 2nd century A.D. Roman copy of a Greek original of Aphrodite. Alun Salt at Flickr.com

Venus statue is a Roman 1st or 2nd century copy of a Greek original.

The Roman goddess Venus was a vegetation goddess. The month of April honored her, especially with the Veneralia festival on the first of the month when women cleaned the statue of Venus and re-decorated her.

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Neptune, Piazza della Signoria, Florence
Neptune, Piazza della Signoria, Florence. Dan..

Neptune was the sea god and the god of earthquakes. Neptune is the Roman equivalent of Poseidon.

Poseidon is one of the three brother gods who divided the world among them. Poseidon's lot was the sea. As sea god Poseidon is usually seen with a trident. He is the god of water, horses, and earthquakes and was considered responsible for shipwrecks and drownings.

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Scythian Youth

Scythian youth from a Roman table 2nd Century B.C.
The Scythians were pastoral nomadic horsemen of the Steppes. Scythian youth from a Roman table 2nd Century B.C. Photo CC Flickr user covilha

The Scythians are normally shown with the pointed cap to keep their ears warm while on horseback in the Steppes. (More below....)

One story Herodotus tells about the origin of the Scythians makes Hercules and Echidna their ancestors: Herodotus 4.8-12

From thence Heracles came to the land now called Scythia.... [A]t last he came to the region which is called Hylaia; and there he found in a cave a kind of twofold creature formed by the union of a maiden and a serpent, whose upper parts from the buttocks upwards were those of a woman, but her lower parts were those of a snake. Having seen her and marvelled at her, he asked her then whether she had seen any mares straying anywhere; and she said that she had them herself and would not give them up until he lay with her; and Heracles lay with her on condition of receiving them. She then tried to put off the giving back of the mares, desiring to have Heracles with her as long as possible, while he on the other hand desired to get the mares and depart; and at last she gave them back and said: "These mares when they came hither I saved for thee, and thou didst give me reward for saving them; for I have by thee three sons. Tell me then, what must I do with these when they shall be grown to manhood, whether I shall settle them here, for over this land I have power alone, or send them away to thee?" She thus asked of him, and he, they say, replied: "When thou seest that the boys are grown to men, do this and thou shalt not fail of doing right: -- whichsoever of them thou seest able to stretch this bow as I do now, and to be girded [12a] with this girdle, him cause to be the settler of this land; but whosoever of them fails in the deeds which I enjoin, send him forth out of the land: and if thou shalt do thus, thou wilt both have delight thyself and perform that which has been enjoined to thee." ... And two of her sons, Agathyrsos and Gelonos, not having proved themselves able to attain to the task set before them, departed from the land, being cast out by her who bore them; but Skythes the youngest of them performed the task and remained in the land: and from Skythes the son of Heracles were descended, they say, the succeeding kings of the Scythians (Skythians): and they say moreover that it is by reason of the cup that the Scythians still even to this day wear cups attached to their girdles: and this alone his mother contrived for Skythes.
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Pazyryk Horseman From Central Asia

Pazyryk Horseman. c 300 B.C. Detail from a carpet in the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.
Pazyryk Horseman. c 300 B.C. Detail from felt in the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. Photo by PHG

Pazyryk horsemen and steppe nomads (like Scythians), lived (6-4th C B.C.) in the Altai Mountains by China, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia. (More below...)

Pazyryk is the name of an ancient people who used the stone covered burial mound or "kurgan" typical of Scythian, Sarmatian, and the Siberian Pazyryk cultures. Pazyryk is the location of a chain of 26 such kurgans covering about a half mile. Beginning in the 1920s, archaeologists excavating the Pazyryk burial mounds have found the embalmed body of a tattooed man from c. 300-290 B.C., textiles, wagons, horses, bridles, saddles, and more artifacts, preserved by having been frozen.

Xavier Jordana, of Spain's Universitat Auto'noma de Barcelona, led a 2-year study of the Pazyryk burial mounds that examined the causes of death of 10 individuals, as reported in archaeologydaily.com/news/index.php?/Think-your-life-is-bad-Archaeologists-show-us-worse.html (Archaeology Daily). Jordana says half the sample died violently, either in battle or as sacrificial victims, and there seems to have been an effort at scalping.

For information on the art and excavations in this area of permafrost, see:

  • Early Cultures of the Lands of the Scythians, by Boris Piotrovsky The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin © 1973 The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  • The Chinese Mirror from Pazyryk, by John F. Haskins Archives of the Chinese Art Society of America © 1964.
  • State Hermitage Museum : Southern Siberia/Pazyryk
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Women Exercise in Bikinis

Ancient Roman Women Exercising in Bikinis. Roman Mosaic From Piazza Armerina, Sicily.
Ancient Roman Women Exercising in Bikinis. Roman Mosaic From Villa Romana del Casale outside the town of Piazza Armerina, in Central Sicily. Mosaic may have been made in the 4th century A.D. by North African artists. CC Photo Flickr User liketearsintherain

Women exercising wearing leather tops and bottoms that look a lot like bikinis. From a Sicilian Mosaic. (More below.)

This is part of a famous mosaic showing women exercising and especially playing with balls. The woman on the left is using hand weights. The one on the right wears jewelry. They are both barefoot. Most depictions of Roman women are more formal, with hair done and up, so the redhead on the left looks particularly unusual. It is thought that the mosaic was made by North African artists because some of the tesserae (pieces for the mosaic) are African.

The top is a band, probably a long piece of cotton or linen cloth wrapped around the breasts, rather than an actual bikini top. It is called a strophium. There are other possible names for it: fascia, fasciola, taenia, and mamillare. Its purpose was to hold the breasts and may also have been to compress them. The breast band was a normal, if optional, item in a woman's underwear. The same can not be said of the "bikini" bottom. The bottom loincloth-like piece is probably a subligar. A male athlete might wear a subligaculum. There may be no difference. The subligar/subligaculum was worn by athletes, slaves, and certain others who might otherwise wear too little clothing for Roman standards of modesty, but it was not a normal element of underwear, so far as we know. That is: normal Roman clothing included under-tunics and breast bands, but not underpants/drawers/briefs. So the silly Latin semper ubi sub ubi 'always where under where' may not apply to the Romans.

Whatever else, it is interesting to see the possibly idealized depiction of the shapes of the Roman women, with their firm, probably well-muscled legs and arms, broad hips, and small feet.


  • "Roman Underwear Revisited," by Kelly Olson. The Classical World, Vol. 96, No. 2 (Winter, 2003), pp. 201-210.
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Roman Insula

Roman Insula
Roman Insula. CC Photo Flickr User antmoose

These ruins of an insula, an ancient Roman apartment building are in a museum near the Aqua Virgo aqueduct in Rome. (More below....)

Documents probably from the fourth century A.D., known as the Regionaries, list contemporary landmarks of the city of Rome. The regions of the title are the 14 areas into which Emperor Augustus divided Rome. According to the Regionaries, there were 44,850 insulae and 1781 domus. Generally, insula (literally, 'island') is translated as apartment building or block and domus as house/home, although here you might think "mansion". The individual apartments in which people lived are also sometimes called insulae, but the term cenaculum seems more common, at least by the late imperial period. An insula might also refer to a taberna (shop) or a floor in an apartment building. An insula is generally believed to be an independent building.

The significance of the 44,850 insulae in the Regionaries is that through them it might be possible to estimate the population of Rome in the Imperial period. Unfortunately, it is not yet possible to decide conclusively what constitutes even an insula, let alone what a suitable number of occupants might be in each, and so it remains impossible to deduce how large the population of Rome was.

  • Rome Apartments
  • Republican Era - Roman Home Construction
  • "The Population of Imperial Rome: The Regionaries," by G. Hermansen. Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, Vol. 27, No. 1 (1st Qtr., 1978), pp. 129-168.
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Saint Augustine Panel

Saint Augustine Painting, by Carlo Crivelli (1487/8) at National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo.
Timeline of Saint Augustine Saint Augustine Painting, by Carlo Crivelli (1487/8) at National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo. Tempera on panel. Item number: P.1962-0005. CC Photo Flickr User unforth

Tempera on panel of Saint Augustine is part of a polyptych altarpiece. Saint Augustine is shown here with books, as is appropriate to a teacher. (More below...)

  • 354 - Augustine was born in Thagaste, Numidia (now Algeria).
  • 371 - Augustine went to Carthage.
  • 375 - In the year in which the Emperor Valentinian I died, Augustine returned to Thagaste to teach. He then wrote the no longer extant De pulchro et apto.
  • 383 - The usurper Maximus revolted, there was famine in Rome, and Augustine sailed there.
  • 384 - Augustine was appointed to teach rhetoric in Milan. While in Milan, he studied neoplatonism.
  • 386 - Augustine converted to Christianity and launched a prolific Christian writing career.
  • 387 - Ambrose baptized Augustine.
  • 395/6 - Augustine made bishop of Hippo Regius (Annaba, Algeria), Augustine kept the position until his death.
  • 430 - Augustine died on August 28.

Source: Augustine of Hippo, by Peter Robert Lamont Brown. University of California Press, 2000.

"A thing is not necessarily true because badly uttered, nor false because spoken magnificently."
Confessions Book V, by Saint Augustine
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Odysseus and the Suitors

Odysseus and the Suitors
Illustration from Schwab, Gustav: “Die schönsten Sagen des klassischen Altertums” (1882). Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

A scene from the end of the Odyssey where Odysseus kills the suitors, perhaps taking out on them the frustrations of the last 20 years of war and homeward trip.

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Mayan Hieroglyph on Stele

Mayan stelae, Museum of Man, San Diego
Mayan stelae, Museum of Man, San Diego. CC Flickr User auxesis

This stele photo is from the Museum of Man, San Diego. (More below....)

In his 2009 book on Writing, Barry B. Powell discusses ancient Mayan writing, as of yet only partially deciphered. So far, Powell says the script reveals the ancient Maya as "cruel, masochistic, and filled with braggadocio." The Mayan writing is a logosyllabary with great variety and lots of homophones. Mayan writing made use of the astronomical information at which the Maya excelled in order to make simple statements of fact memorializing their leaders, but their writing had virtually no other known purpose, like accounting.

  • Review: Barry B. Powell's
Calendar of the Maya Quiz
Maya Quiz from Archaeology at About.com
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Leda and the Swan

Leda and the Swan
Leda and the Swan. CC Flickr User maverick2003

Leda, wife of Tyndareus of Sparta, was mother to such famous children as Helen and the Dioscuri (Castor and Pollux). Zeus mated with her as a swan. (More below)

Helen was the sister of Clytemnestra, and sometimes considered her twin. Helen was the daughter of Zeus, but Clytemnestra's father was merely the king of Sparta. Helen's father impregnated her human mother, Leda, as a swan. While Leda is generally considered the mother, another version has Nemesis lay the Helen-egg and Leda adopt the goddess' baby girl.

Leda's twin sons, Castor and Pollux, are also commonly thought to have been the sons of two different fathers. Again, one father is the Zeus-swan and the other, Tyndareus. Sometimes both boys are considered fully human. As such, they have died by the time Helen looks for them in the Iliad. At other times, Pollux (aka Polydeuces) is considered half-immortal. Before Helen's abduction that led to the Trojan War, Castor and Pollux rescued Helen from her first abductor -- the Greek hero Theseus.

This Apulian terracotta ritual vessel or loutrophoros is attributed to the Louvre painter. It measures 35 1/2 x 10 1/4 in. The Red-Figure vase shows scenes from the seduction of Leda by Zeus. Hypnos is to the right of Leda on the loutrophoros. The branch may be of yew dipped into the waters of oblivion of the River Lethe.

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Caesar Statue

Caesar at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale Napoli
Caesar at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale Napoli. CC Flickr User get directly down

Gaius Julius Caesar (July 13, 100 B.C - March 15, 44 B.C.) was a statesman, general, and writer, considered by some to have been the greatest man of all time. He started out his career as the nephew and companion of 7-time consul and army reformer Gaius Marius. Caesar shared his uncle's political sentiments. This put Caesar at odds with the conservative faction of the aristocracy (Optimates). With Crassus and Pompey, Caesar formed the first Triumvirate that allowed the 3 men to enjoy the power they wanted without entirely overhauling the republican form of government. Caesar eventually became dictator for life (perpetual dictator), helping pave the way for the one-man rule his Nephew Augustus (Octavian) would soon enjoy as the first emperor of Rome.

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Laocoon, his sons, and the serpent. CC Flickr User sethschoen

In the stories about the Trojan War, Laocoon said, "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts." The reward for his sage advise was strangulation by sea serpent. (More below.)

Laocoon was the uncle of the Trojan prince Aeneas. In Book II of Vergil/Virgil's Aeneid, Laocoon makes the memorable comment about being wary of Greeks bearing gifts (timeo Danaos et dona ferentis [Aeneid. II.249]).

Laocoon believed the massive wooden horse known as the Trojan horse had men in it who would destroy the city of Troy. Laocoon was right, of course, but he was no more trusted than the prophetess Cassandra who also warned the Trojans against the horse.

Laocoon was a priest of the sea god Neptune, but this didn't save him from divine punishment when he thrust a sword into the side of the wooden horse. Ostensibly, the horse was an offering to the goddess Athena/Minerva. As punishment, Laocoon and his two son were strangled by serpents from the sea.

The Trojans considered this punishment a sign that Laocoon had displeased the god whom he served. They also believed it showed that the wooden horse was sacred, so they wheeled it into the city. The inevitable result was a Greek victory and Troy in flames.

Laocoon and His Sons Sculpture

The picture shows a life size marble sculpture from the Vatican Museum. This presumed Hellenistic piece (or Roman copy thereof) was found during the Renaissance among the ruins of the first century A.D. Flavian Roman emperor Titus' palace [source: Mary Ann Sullivan Laocoon] or "inside the Sette Sale (holding tanks for the baths of Trajan on the Esquiline Hill in Rome)" [source: [ maa.missouri.edu/objects/castgallery/castlaokoon.html] The Curators of the University of Missouri]. Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23-79) describes an object believed -- not without problem -- to be this piece that was in the palace of Titus.

For more on the dating of the group, see Laocoon Chronology.

(Pliny H. N. xxxvi. 5) " The Laocoön, which is in the palace of the emperor Titus, is a work to be preferred to all others, either in painting or sculpture. Those great artists, Agesander, Polydorus, and Athenodorus, Rhodians, executed the principal figure and the sons and the wonderful folds of the serpents out of one block of marble."
Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898)

Since the pieces were unearthed in 1506, the sculpture has inspired artists and art critics, especially the 18th century Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's essay "Laocoon: An Essay on the Limits of Painting and Poetry" and in 1940, Clement Greenberg's "Towards a Newer Laocoön."