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Coins of mythological interest

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Apollo Lykeios - or rather not?

If you are busy with Apollo Lykeios the next coin belongs undoubtfully to this theme, an AE37 of Maximinus I from Tarsos, because the depicted Apollo is called regularly Apollo Lykeios.

Maximinus I AD 225-238
AE 37, 19.31g
        P- P in li und re Feld.
        bust, draped and cuirassed, radiate, r.
        Apollo Lykeios, nude, lauresate, standing facing, holdind a dead wolfe in each
       AMK in l. field, G.B in r. field
SNG Levante 1099 (this coin); SNG France 1590 (same die)
(attribution by Barry Murphy)
rare, about VF

AMK is standing for 'PRWTH, MEGICTH, KALLICTH', 'the first, the Biggest, the most Beautiful'. These epitheta Tarsos got - like other cities too - AD 215 on the occasion of Caracalla's campaign against the Parths. G.B are numbers, 3 and 2. Its meaning is 'Metropolis of three provinces, holder of two neocories'. When Tarsos got a third neocory under Valerian the legend was changed to G.G. (Curtis Clay)

If you are looking more closely at the dead wolfes, then you can recognize that they look more like dogs than like wolfes. Patricia Lawrenc was so kind to direct me to another interpretation of the rev.
Bekircan Tahberer in 'Celator' suggests, that Apollo is wearing actually two dogs! Lychopron, a poet of the 3rd century, is speaking of the mythological figures Mopsus and Amphilochos as the 'dogs of Apollon', which were his companions like the deer of Artemis. So these two dogs on the rev. would symbolize Mopsus and Amphilochos. This hypothesis is strengthened by the fact that until now there is no statue found in Tarsos of Apollo Lykeios as opposed f.e. to Mallos, where Mopsos and Amphilochos were highly venerated and where statues of Apollo were standing. Nor are there coins of Tarsos with the usual Apollo Lykeios depiction, we have seen in the contribution before. However there are coins with Perseus and Apollo holding 'the wolfes'. very different in Mallos: Mopsos himself was a son of Apollon and Amphilochos was the son of Amphiaraos from Argolis a priest of Apollon. So both have a strong relation to Apollon. His scrying art he has got from Apollon.

You should know that in this time an intense competition existed between cities for the establishing of neocories and sanctuaries. If a city like Mallos had a famous oracle then this was like the permission to struck money. The people from far away came into the city and with them the money and the city became rich and wealthy. This was like todays competition for the nomination as scene of Olympic Games. Mallos was one of the most famous oracles in Asia Minor due to the tombs of Mopsos and Amphilochos. When now Tarsos depicts these two as 'dogs of Apollon' it could obviously upvalue its position compared to that of Mallos, yes indeed it could have been the attempt to surpass Mallos.

Unfortunately we have the problem, that the early Anatolians have omitted to make notations or if they have they were not kept or were lost. In any case the depicted statue is a typical cult statue for a temple and not a pic for a small shrine standing in the landscape. Probably it was as beautiful and important as that from Kanachos in Milet where Apoll holds a stag on his hand. Sadly we have no possibility to get out wether it is originated really from the 6th century or wether it was only a 'wondrous decovery' in later times. (Patricia Lawrence)

In any case this is not an Apollo Lykeios, because he was depicted always as we could see him on the famous statue from Athens.

Some more information under

Der kleinePauly
Bekircan Tahberer, Apollo Lykeos in Ancient Tarsus Numismatics, Celator #30

Thanks to Curtis Clay and Patricia Lawrence!

Best regards

The Rape of Persephone

I want to talk about the reverse of a coin from Maionia in Lydia struck for Marcus Aurelius.

Marcus Aurelius AD 161-180
AE 35, 24.70g
struck under the 1st Archon Quintus
bust laureate, r..
Hades, in Himation fluttering in the wind, standing r. in Quadriga, going r., holding reins in l. hand, head l., holding with r. resisting Persephone, extending her arms in distress. Under the horses her basket with flowers , above all Eros flying l.
SNG von Aulock 3018; ex coll. Burnstein, ex Auktion Peus #366, 2000
Rare, about VF, two flan cracks, but beautiful blue-green patina of the fields in contrast to the figures

This coin I have purchased not because of the obverse but because of the interesting rev. motive. It shows the Rape of Persephone. This motive was picked up often by the painting and the sculpture. I remind here of the famous sculpture of Bernini in the Villa Borghese in Rome and of the paintings of Rembrandt, Rubens and Dell'Abate to name only some of them.

1. Mythology
Hades fell in love with Persephone, daughter of Demeter, and begged Zeus for permission to marry her. Zeus was afraid of offending his brother but was aware too that Demeter was never forgiving him if Persephone was banned into the underworld forever. So Zeus answered ambiguous that he can't affirm and can't deny his request. That encouraged Hades to rape Persephone when she was picking flowers in a meadow and to abduct her in his by horses drawn cart into the underworld.

9 days Demeter was seeking her daughter and was calling her vainly. Only Hekate gave her an advice but without much help. On the 10th day she came to king Keleus in Eleusis. There Triptolemos was herding his father's cattle. He gave her the desired information: When his brothers Eumolpos and Ebuleus were herding their sheep and their pigs a black cart has suddenly appeared whose driver has entwined a crying maid. With this evidence in hand Demeter called Hekate and both forced Helios who see all to concede that Hades was the kidnapper. Demeter was so disgusted that she interdicted all trees and plants to bare fruits so that all human beings should die.

Thus Zeus was obliged to send Hermes to Hades with the message that all were doomed if  Kore - another name of Persephone - was not given back. So Hades was pressed to give Kore back with the condition however that she never has eaten from the food of the deads. Therefore he agreed that Hermes should bring her back in his cart into the world above. Askalaphos however, a gardener of Hades, has seen that she has eaten seven seeds of a pomegranate, and so Hades command him to sit on the back of Hermes' cart. Demeter was full of delight when she could welcome her daughter in Eleusis. But when she heard of the pomegranate she fell in deeper mourning than before and renewed her curse over the earth.
Finally Zeus could convince his mother Rhea to find a solution. And so it looks: For 3 months each year Kore should be with Hades as queen of the underworld with the title Persephone, and the other 9 months with Demeter in the world above. Hekate should be aware of the compliance of this agreement. Given that Demeter decided to return home and cancel her curse. Before she founded in Eleusis the famous mysteries and teached Triptolemos, Eumolpos and Keleus in her worshipping. The traitor Askalaphos was enclosed in a burrow and then turned into an owl after he was freed by Herakles.

(will be continued)


2. Background
In Latin she is always called Proserpina. This goddess was worshipped in Rome since 249 BC together with Dis Pater in Secular Games. But the derivation of her name from Persephone is erroneous. She was responsible only for 'bellum prospere geri posse' in the Secular Games. She has nothing to deal with the greek Persephone. Whenever latin poets are speeking from Proserpina there is always meant the greek Persephone. She will be known in Italy since c.500 BC.

Persephone was the greek goddess of the underworld and the wife of Hades. But as often in greek deities her history goes far into the past. Variants of her name in Attic, Thessalic, Laconic and Locric let assume a pre-hellenic origin. So she is ethymological related to the semitic deat goddess Anat, to Persaeis (another name of Hekate), and to the Etruscan death daimon phersu (from which the word 'person' is originated). That is an argument for the theory of some scholars that the Etruscan came from Maionia, the Homeric name of Lydia.

Mycenic her name was Pe-re-sa, in Linear B there is the name pe-re-ja, from which Aphrodite is derived. She was at first a double goddess Demeter and Kore/Persephone. Not until Hesiod Kore became the daughter of Demeter. These double goddesses are known too in Lydic (Lametrus and Artemis), in Umbric as Torsa Prestota Cerfia and in Oscic as Ammai Kerriiai and Futrei Kerriiai. In Mesapic there were the two goddesses Damatira/Doimata and Grahis/Graiva, which means old wife in the sense of Earth Mother. Following Kerenyi the Rape of Kore so goes back into the 3rd millenium BC!

The motive of picking flowers and the role of the fruit (pomegrantae) are minoic-mediterranean symbolism. It points to a pre-hellenic drama of vegetation. The disappearance and reappearance of Kore flows into mystic affected agrar-chthonic solemnisations, allusions to the existential phenomena of death, marriage and fecundation. In classic times important roles were played by the greek Mysteries in Eleusis, mesenia, in Graeca Magna and in Sicily, which had strong orphic-dionysic influences. Kore lived on in late-hellenestic times in the Mysteries of Isis, her other side, the original erinyen-like connected with Hekate-Artemis-Selene was saved in the Orphic and went over into the liturgy of the syncretistic Papyri Graecae Magicae.

Ovid, Metamorphosen V, 385-425
Karl Kerenyi, Die Mythologie der Griechen
Robert von Ranke-Graves, Greek Mythology
Der kleine Pauly

Best regards

The Stymphalean Birds - an ancient Bird Influenza?

This coin has me attracted because there was a similarity to the Apollo depictions. But then it was Herakles holding a bow! It is the only motive of Herakles with a bow where he is chasing the Stymphalean Birds. Alltogether these coins are not common, especially those showing the birds too!

This is an AE27 of Septimius Severus from Nikopolis ad Istrum.

Septimius Severus AD 193-211
AE 27, 11.73g
       bust, laureate, r.
       Herakles standing r., holding club r. and lionskin and bow l.
Moushmov 1009-A. No.2649. Not in Varbanov. Rare, VF

This type was struck under the legate Pollenius Auspex, who has this office for a short time at the beginning of the reign of Septimius Severus, before he was sent to Britannia, where he was governor AD 200-205 until Clodius Albinus was defeated. Cassius Dio tells about him: Auspex was the most intelligent and most imaginative man at joke and in conversation., but also of contempt of all men, in rewarding his friends and taking revenge on his enemies. Numerous bitter but wise words are passed down many of them aimed at Septimius Severus himself. Here is one of the last kind: When the emperor was accepted by the family of Marcus Aurelius Auspex said: I congratulate you, emperor, that you have found a father at least! This was an allusion to the fact that Septimius due to his dark origin was fatherless so far.

Following the standard count the Battle against the Stymphalic Birds was Herakles' 6th labour. When Herakles came back from the successful mucking out the stable of Augias, Erystheus charged him with a even more difficult task. He should drive away a huge flock of birds, which have gathered in a swamp near the city of Stymphalos laying in a deep forest. Herakles had no idea how to do his job, but Athena came to help him. She gave him two great flappers made of bronze (krotala) by which he was able to make a noise like snapper. But these were not the usual noise tools. They were forged by Hephaistos, the immortal artisan. Herakles climbed a nearby mountain and smashed the krotala so loud that the birds frightened were flying up and he could kill most of them with bow and arrows (others say by a sling). The survivors are said to have escaped to the islands of Ares in the Black Sea where they do much harm to Jason and the Argonauts on their search of the Golden Fleece, until they were expelled by Boreas, the Northwind.  

Some versions of the myth are saying, that these birds actually were terrible man-eaters with beaks from metal and feathers from bronze, which they could shoot like arrows. Their feet were too made from iron and would rust in the swamp and thereby threatened the surrounding localities by poison. They were the favourite birds of Ares. To Arcadia they were come on the flight from wolfes.
Pausanias the famous travel writer of the 2nd century has tried to get out what kind of birds they could have been. He wrote that at his time there was a kind of birds in the Arabic desert which are called Stymphalian Birds. They have been as dangerous as leopards or lions. They were sized like cranes and have had the shape of an Ibis but their beaks were stronger and not so curved as on the Ibis. (Pausanias 8.22.5)

Pausanias had seen the santuary too which the Greek had built in Stymphalos and sanctified to Artemis. He reports that the temple have had yet indentations made by the Stympalian birds right under the roof. Behind the temple have stood marble statues of Maidens with legs like birds. Here they had looked like Harpyies.

The ancient geograph Strabo suggested that the Stympalean Swamp was drained by a subterranean river which miles away came out on the other side of the mountains as a font near of Kefalari.
(Photo: Joel Skidmore)

(will be continued)


Recent opinions (What I have found!):
1. There is an astrological explanation: If the sun stands in the sign of Sagittarius, the signs of Lyra, Eagle and Swane are rising. At this time of the year the evenings became darker and therefore this constellation of stars is seen as evil. At the same time in Greece the rainy season begins and makes swamps out of otherwise dry areas. For the Greeks the sign of Sagittarius has different interpretations including a flapper. Also the next sign which is crossed by the sun is the Dolphin whose myths report the rescue of the musician Arion. Herakles flushed out the Stymphalean Birds by noise and then shot his arrows. This shows that Sagittarius (Herakles as archer) with his arrow points to the next sign, the Eagle.
I think this is nonsense!

2. Searching for a realistic nucleus of the myth (if there is one!) I find the following explanation more plausible:
Most of the mythologists today suggest that the Stymphalean Birds are a symbol of a toxic ague. Already in ancient times existed public threats like pollution of the air. In this myth the waterfowls were demonized as reason for illness and epidemics around the Stymphalean Swamp. An expression of human anxiety and ignorance, not a metallophobia but of the threat that these animals could be the explosive reservoir of pathogenic germs. We can think at the Bird Influenza and the dangerous H5-virus. Each time the birds were flying to another region they propagated the plague by contact to other birds. Perhaps it was the West-Nil-Virus which migratory birds have brought into the western world possibly by infection of ornithophile mosquitos. These could then have infected other animals or men.
Moreover it is known that migratory fowls, ducks and geese, have the Influenza virus and could excrete it by the intestine. So they became a source for further epidemics in the homelike poultry. This means an immense threat for the public health.
About the West-Nil-Virus we know much more in the meantime. It is equally dangerous as in ancient times. But in contrast to Herakles we don't use flappers, bow and arrows, but pesticides, vaccines, antivirale drugs and sanctions like isolation and quarantine.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USA (

a) A pic of the Chase for the Stymphalean Birds on a black-figured Attic vase
b) A pic of  the Stympalean Swamp today

Best regards


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