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XXI

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BACCHUS AND ARIADNE





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Bacchus and Ariadne. - There is, in the French Cabinet, a brass medallion of Antoninus Pius - the obverse of which presents a noble portrait of that emperor (see p. 55); and the reverse, without legend, is charged with a Bacchanalian group; not less classic in design than bold in relief, and beautiful in fabric.

To this numismatic gem, Seguin (in this Selec. Num. p. 127), has the merit of being one of the first - if not the very first - to call attention, by an engraving in outline, and also by verbal description; neither of which however, have the requisite degree of accuracy to recommend them. With respect to the type, for example; in the principal figures in the foreground, to the left, he recognises two females, and in the centre, a woman holding an infant in swaddling clothes. Under this false impression, he pronounces the subject represented, to be the accouchement of Rhea; in other words, the birth of Jupiter. - Eckhel points out the mistake thus made by the learned French antiquary of the elder school. But whilst he justly remarks that the surrounding chorus of nymphs and satyrs unquestionably indicates Bacchus, the great numismatist of Vienna himself falls into the same error of regarding the elevated figure in the background of the group as "an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, held aloft" by one of the nymphs - (vii. p.10)

Mionnet rectifies, in great measure, the wrong views, and consequently fallacious descriptions, of both his eminent predecessors, by following notice of this interesting reverse:-

"Bacchus and Ariadne seated; at their feet a panther; opposite to them is an old man crouching, and several bacchants are carrying a terminus, and playing on diverse instruments."

But even Mionnet's description is faulty, as to the terminus being "carried". Mr Fairholt's engraving of this wonderfully fine antique exhibits these points in quite a different and a truer light.


The woman supposed by Seguin, and by Eckhel, to be holding a swaddled infant, turns out to be a satyr, who raises his right arm above his head, and in his left holds a crook (the pedum). The terminal figure is not carried, but stands on a pillar, or base. The legs of the old man (who is doubtless meant for Silenus) are hidden by the panther. The terminus, like one in the Townley Gallery, British Museum, is wrapped up in a mantle and holds something like a wine cup. Silenus it will, on inspection, be seen, also holds a half-inverted wine cup. Besides these there are a satyr behind Ariadne, a faun blowing a long flute; and to the right the figure of a young woman, clothed in long but light drapery, and with raised right arm striking the tympanum or tambour, as if dancing to its sound. The form and attitude of the principle female figure are symmetrical and graceful; she points with her left hand towards the terminus, whilst sitting close beside her lover whom the thyrsus serves clearly to identify; and the vine tendril on each side fills up every feature of the design needful to its appropriation, as a scene of revelry connected with the fable of Bacchus and Ariadne.

Two other brass medallions of the above mentioned emperor display on their respective reverses, without legend, typifications of Bacchus. They are noticed in Akerman, Descr. Cat. i. 265, as follows:-

1. Bacchus sleeping: before him is a female figure, standing near a statue, which is full faced and placed on a pedestal.

2. Bacchus standing in a temple, which has two circular galleries on the exterior; before it is a man holding a goat.


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