For Péter Agócs
Our birthday series continues with your requests: after a brief sojourn in the underworld, and a glimpse into classical schools, we are mounting a new exhibit in our online gallery. We will introduce this remarkable work of art with a crossword puzzle: the solution will reveal the name of the Greek hero that the deity represented by this statue was seen to resemble!
The statue was carved of limestone in the first half of the fifth century BC. It was found in Idalion (today Dali) in Cyprus, the centre of one of the independent kingdoms on the island in the Archaic period. The statue was discovered in the so-called Sanctuary of Apollon, which was excavated by the British in the late 1860s. Most of its finds were later acquired by the British Museum.
The 56 cm tall torso represents a young man. His left foot is extended – like that of the archaic Greek kouros statues –, and his hair is arranged in neat curls. The youth is beardless and wears a short chiton, covered with a lion’s hide, which is pulled over his head and tied in front of his chest. He holds a small lion by the tail in his left hand. Based on similar pieces, it is likely he held a club in his raised right hand, which is now lost.
These iconographical features could easily evoke the figure of Heracles, but in the art of the period, the hero is almost always bearded and never holds a small lion in his hand. From a Cypriote perspective, an entirely different interpretation can be outlined.
Different versions of this iconographical scheme were quite popular in Idalion (from the late seventh to the fourth century BC), and in other cities of the island as well. Although the sanctuary of Idalion yielded statues of several deities, we can only name one of them on the basis of contemporary inscriptions. According to a bilingual – Phoenician and Cypriote Greek – inscription dated to 388/387 BC, the deity worshipped here was Reshef Mikal or Apollon Amyklaios in Greek. (Ad notam: this inscription gave George Smith the key to decipher the Cypriote syllabary in 1871).
In the fifth and fourth centuries BC, Idalion was alternately dominated by the Greeks and the Phoenicians. The history of the sanctuary, however, seems continuous, and there is nothing to indicate a change in the cult. It is thus reasonable to suggest that the god of the sanctuary was Reshef. In the fifth century, the traits he had in common with Heracles were more dominant, but later he could also be identified with Apollon. The peaceful coexistence of Phoenician and Greek cultures was one of the fundamental characteristics of the history of ancient Cyprus.
Featured image: Limestone statue (Idalion, 500–450 BC). London, British Museum, 1917,0701.233 © The Trustees of the British Museum / CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 • Limestone statue (Idalion, 450–425 BC). London, British Museum, 1917,0701.285 © The Trustees of the British Museum / CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 • Marble base with bilingual inscription (Idalion, 388/387 BC) London, British Museum, 125320 © The Trustees of the British Museum / CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 • The featured image was created using Gary Turner’s photo, source: flickr.com / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
Background image for the crossword puzzle: ruins of Idalion. Source: wikipedia © Rjdeadly (2017).