Saturday, March 26, 2011

But None of These is Eros

Eros, naked and male, is not to be confused with other winged beings or naked youths. 

For example clothed, female figures like Nike, here on a coin from Nicopolis ad Istrum (Moesia).

Or Nemesis, here on the reverse of a coin from Tripolis in Lydia


or as an unattributed provincial countermark (= Howgego, GIC 283).

More mysterious is the youth holding a bird in his outstretched hand on coins of Pergamon (Mysia) with obverse type of helmeted head of Athena, who was identified by Imhoof-Blumer in 1908 (Zur griechischen und römischen Münzkunde, 2) as one of the minor gods of healing associated with Asclepius. These included Telesphorus, normally represented as a little cloaked figure, however, rather than as a naked youth, and Euamerion. Two reverses are shown here, of coins struck by Ioulios Pollion in the time of Hadrian (l.) and by Diodoros in the time of Commodus (r.).

There are also nude boys depicted on the reverse of Hadrianic coins from Hierocaesareia in Lydia (photo courtesy of Numismatik Naumann GmbH), but these too are not winged.

If the boy on a dolphin isn’t winged, he probably isn’t Eros. On this coin, from Tarentum in Italy, it is Taras. For other dolphin-riders, see Type 21.

Another mysterious reverse type comes from Serdica (Thracia) and shows a naked young god with a serpent-staff; by his side is a small figure, reaching up towards him (illustrations). The two figures are not Aesclupius and Eros, but Apollo the Healer and, possibly, his son Aesculapius; alternatively, Telesphorus (as Patricia Lawrence has pointed out, the identification is difficult because of the lack of attributes; see the discussion of Aesculapius, Telesphorus, and Co. in Hans-Joachim Hoefts Münzen und antike Mythologie, 2011, pp.279 ff. and 289 ff.). Here are two variants: on the left (photo courtesy of Lübke & Wiedemann KG) the tiny figure is naked, while on the right (photo courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group, Inc., he is wearing a chlamys over his shoulders, which might easily be mistaken for wings on a worn specimen of the coin.


It is the infant Heracles (and not Eros) who is portrayed carrying the club and lionskin on a coin of Heracleia Pontica in Bithynia (SNG von Aulock 423), or fighting, here, on a coin from Serdica (Thracia), with the serpents sent to kill him by the jealous Hera (photo courtesy of Lübke & Wiedemann KG).



Nor should his son Telephus, shown here with Heracles on another coin from Serdica (photo courtesy of Dr. Busso Peus Nachfolger), be mistaken for Eros. Compare the pose of Telephus on this coin with that of the child (Eros?) on the coin of Nicomedia (Type 42), who seems to be floating in front of Heracles rather than squatting on his arm.

But the child most easily mistaken for Eros is Dionysus, shown here on a coin of Geta from Nicaea (photo by courtesy of Münzen & Medaillen GmbH), riding on a panther.


Dionysus is also represented as a child in an improvised cradle, actually a corn-sieve for separating wheat from chaff, here on a coin of Septimius Severus from Nicaea in Bithynia (photo by courtesy of Dr. Busso Peus Nachfolger).


On other coins he is shown being looked after by various helpers, including Silenus, on an extremely rare coin of Sardes, illustrated on p.295 of Hans-Joachim Hoefts Münzen und antike Mythologie, or by Hermes, here on an extremely rare coin of Septimius Severus from Philippopolis in Thracia, misread by Varbanov (1252) as Naked Apollo stg. r., resting on column and holding bow (?)”, but reproducing the famous statue by Praxiteles at Olympia, of which the Philippopolitans presumably had a nice copy. There is a similar coin (of Marcus Aurelius Caesar) from Anchialus (AMNG 427), also exceptionally rare.


On charming coins of Marcus Aurelius at Philippopolis (Thracia), Dionysus (or a Baccchic child) is shown dancing, holding a thyrsus and a cantharus (from a private collection, photo by permission); there is a cruder version of the same type for Commodus at Nicopolis ad Istrum (Moesia).


Finally, there are very rare representations of the naked Hermaphrodite on provincial coins, including the famous statuary type of the Sleeping Hermaphrodite (there are many surviving Roman copies of this risqué statue), on a coin of Augusta Trajana in Thracia (Varbanov 847, misread as Dancing maenad (Genius?) naked, stg. facing, hd. r., holding veil in raised r. hand, and 854 f., River-god swimming r.),


and a remarkable coin of Septimius Severus from Hadrianopolis in Thracia (Varbanov 3392, though wrongly described) that shows Hermaphrodite dancing with Pan (photo courtesy of Peter G. Burbules).

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