Posted by Dennis » Add Comment »
I saw the following tweet (thanks to Terence Lockyer) and thought it was worth a post:
(BTW, if you want to embed a tweet, you have to check out Blackbird Pie from twittermedia.)
The artifact in question is one of the coolest, most unique that I’ve seen — a remarkably well-preserved Tanagra terracotta (late 4th c. BCE) from the collection of the Hermitage Museum:
I was reminded of the following passage from the Argonautica of Apollonius, which describes Aphrodite’s bribing of the young Eros with a toy that had belonged to Zeus:
- Τίπτ’ ἐπιμειδιάᾳς, ἄφατον κακόν; ἦέ μιν αὔτως
- ἤπαφες, οὐδὲ δίκῃ περιέπλεο νῆιν ἐόντα;
- εἰ δ’ ἄγε μοι πρόφρων τέλεσον χρέος, ὅττι κεν εἴπω:
- καί κέν τοι ὀπάσαιμι Διὸς περικαλλὲς ἄθυρμα
- κεῖνο, τό οἱ ποίησε φίλη τροφὸς Ἀδρήστεια
- ἄντρῳ ἐν Ἰδαίῳ ἔτι νήπια κουρίζοντι,
- σφαῖραν ἐυτρόχαλον, τῆς οὐ σύγε μείλιον ἄλλο
- χειρῶν Ἡφαίστοιο κατακτεατίσσῃ ἄρειον.
- χρύσεα μέν οἱ κύκλα τετεύχαται: ἀμφὶ δ’ ἑκάστῳ
- διπλόαι ἁψῖδες περιηγέες εἱλίσσονται:
- κρυπταὶ δὲ ῥαφαί εἰσιν: ἕλιξ δ’ ἐπιδέδρομε πάσαις
- κυανέη. ἀτὰρ εἴ μιν ἑαῖς ἐνὶ χερσὶ βάλοιο,
- ἀστὴρ ὥς, φλεγέθοντα δι’ ἠέρος ὁλκὸν ἵησιν.
- τήν τοι ἐγὼν ὀπάσω: σὺ δὲ παρθένον Αἰήταο
- θέλξον ὀιστεύσας ἐπ’ Ἰήσονι: μηδέ τις ἔστω
- ἀμβολίη. δὴ γάρ κεν ἀφαυροτέρη χάρις εἴη.
Could the object in Aphrodite’s right hand, which the museum calls a whipping top, have any relation to the ‘Διὸς περικαλλὲς ἄθυρμα’ (‘Zeus’ very lovely toy’) which Aphrodite promises to Eros? (His task is to poison Medea with love-sickness for Jason.)
I’m not at all convinced that the figurine shows a whipping top, though I have to plead ignorance as to the various forms these took in antiquity (and whether anyone would spin one at an angle on her thigh). It doesn’t look anything like these, for what it’s worth:
‘Zeus’ toy’ is described in line 135 as a ‘well-rounded’ or possibly a ‘swift-moving ball’, and the word for ball can actually refer to the globe of the earth. In fact, the language in the lines that follow implies that the ‘toy’ is some sort of model of the world, divided into various golden circles with hidden seams and a blue coil of some sort (the sea?). If you were to toss it with your hand it would look like a star leaving a flaming trail in the air.
It’s not an original notion that Eros’ ball represents the earth, but I’ve always made a novel association. It reminds me of Ovid’s description of the world’s origin at the start of the Metamorphoses, in which an unknown god fashions the world with its various zones, using a description that much more clearly references astronomical models. I’ve always wondered if Ovid were making an oblique reference here, nodding toward both Apollonius’ Eros toying with Zeus’ plaything (the world) and Hesiod’s Eros as the world’s creator.
It could be my imagination, but I can’t help but look at this figurine and see Aphrodite spinning a globe, rather than a top. Any chance this is the sort of thing that inspired Apollonius?