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XXI

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Apollo Sauroktonos - The Lizardkiller

Nikopolis ad Istrum/Moesia inferior, Geta 198-202
Ae 25, 11.38mm
obv. L CEPTIMI GETAC KAICAR
       bust draped, bare head r.
rev. [YP AVR G]A[LL]OC NIKOPOLITWN PROC ICTRON
      Apollo, naked, laureate, with crossed legs, stg. r., r. hand raised behind holding arrow, l.     
      hand resting on tree before him; at the tree a lizard, touching Apollo
AMNG 1654, VF (lizard only partially visible due to a weak strike)
Rare

When we look at the reverse we see Apollo who looks a bit strange. We see the smiling Apollo looking relaxed at the lizard climbing a tree. But in the same moment he has already the arrow in his hand to spear this small animal. A shudder runs across our back! What's the matter with Apollo?

With this question we aim into the heart of the greek mythology. Because the greek mythological figures are not the invention of the Greeks alone, but have a long prehistory leading into dark times long ago and pointing mostly to the East, not only to ancient Asia but Sumer and Babylon. And this is fact with Apollo too!

We all know Apollo as bright god of light (Phoibos), the god of science, of the Muses and of prophecy. Nietzsche had called this 'Apollonian' in contrary to the 'Dionysian', the dark side of the libidinous and uncontrolled. Apollo so is the greek god kat' exochen. But if we look behind the curtain then we recognize strange, awful features. Already in his first days of life he strangled the Python (therefore the Pytheas in Delphi), he killed with his arrows unpitying the sons of Niobe and skinned the Marsyas. He 'is vwalking like the night' (Homer), launches the plague and assisted the Trojans against the Greek. Is the ethymology of Phobos actually 'phobos = terrible'? The Greeks were saying his name descends from 'apolymmi' (Apollo the annihilator).

He has an affinity to the chthonic-natural which we can see not only by his relations to trees and groves but to related deities too like Poseidon, Hermes, Dionysos and Hades. so he could become the master of Nymphes, Muses and other natural spirits. Bow and lyre - these two contrarion attributes characterize his ambivalent nature.

Because one of his epithetons is Lykeios, scholars has challenged an anatolian origin or his source should be Babylonian because altars were found inscribed with 'Apolunas' and cuneiform writings of 'Ap-pa-li-u-na-as' in a contract between the emperor of Wilusa and the hethitian king Muwatalli. But in the last time the name Lykeios is interpreted as 'god of the wolfs' and so the Hellenestic part of Apollo was strengthened. The result of all research is that we must confess we don't know his origin (Der kleine Pauly).   

In the mythology of Apollon I couldn't find a story with a lizard. From Pliny we know the description of a famous bronze sculpture of Praxiteles (4th century BC) named Sauroktonos, the Lizard-killer. He gave the description: A youthful Apollo standing beside a tree, holding an arrow and looking at a lizard crawling up a tree. The original sculpture is lost. We have two Roman marble copies, now in the Louvre and in the Musei Vaticani in Rome. 2004 the Cleveland museum of arts purchased a bronze sculpture which seems to be from 350-275 BC. These copies show Apollo in a bit different position than on my coin. We found this position on coins too (Look at Doug Smith's wounderful site!). But they miss the arrow Pliny mentioned in his description.



May be it is the pic of Pliny's description of the Sauroktonos of Praxiteles or may be not. But the reverse shows clearly the two sites of Apollo: Here the youthful smiling bringer of light and in the same moment the merciless killer for fun.
 
The statue is the copy from the Musei Vaticani.