Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Type 54: Eros Embracing Psyche

The story of Eros and Psyche is told in the Golden Ass of Apuleius (second century A.D.). Sent by his jealous mother Aphrodite to punish the beautiful Psyche (the soul) by making her fall in love with some disgusting creaturea motif found again in Shakespeares A Midsummer Nights DreamEros himself falls for her, and visits her every night, though without revealing himself to her. He warns her never to look at his face, or she will lose him forever. However, spurred on by her jealous sisters, she does precisely that, and the lovers are parted. To find out how the story continues, and whether it has a happy ending or not, the reader is invited to read Apuleiuss charming text, once described as Shakespeares favourite novel (Shakespeare also used Apuleiuss device of transformation into an ass). Here is a link to Patricia Lawrences page on Eros and Psyche on her Opera Nobilia website.  

There are many surviving representations of the lovers in ancient art, including the statuary groups in the Altes Museum, Berlin (centre) and the Capitoline Museum, Rome (left), Roman copies of Hellenistic originals. Normally Eros is on the left, but this little first century A.D. terracotta from Olbia on the Black Sea (in the National Museum in Poznań, Poland) has the positions reversed (right).

The provincial mints that illustrated the embrace of Eros and Psyche were Serdica in Thracia and Patrae in Achaea. 

* Serdica in Thracia, coins of Septimius Severus and Caracalla, all of them rare. Although most cataloguers have not made the distinction, there are actually two reverse types: (A) Eros r. and Psyche l. in close embrace, with a burning altar behind Eros, and (B) Eros r. and Psyche l. in an arms length embrace. The coin listed by Mionnet (I, 369) could be either. 

Small Æ (here greatly enlarged), 3.05 g. [Obv. AY K M CEYEPOC.Laureate head of Septimius Severus r.] Rev. CEPΔΩN. Reverse type A (Photo courtesy of Lübke & Wiedemann KG).

Æ 19, 2 h, 3.56 g. [Obv. ...ANTΩNEINO.. Laureate (?), draped bust of Caracalla r.] Rev. CEPΔΩN. Reverse type A, from identical reverse die as the coin of Septimius Severus.

Æ 31, 1 h, 14.97 g. Obv. AYT K M AYP CEYH ANTΩNEINOC. Laureate bust of Caracalla r. Rev. OYΛΠIAC CEPΔIKHC. Reverse type B (Photos courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group, Inc., www.cngcoins.com).

Æ 30, 1 h, 15.73 g. Similar, reverse type B, enlargement of reverse below.

Æ 17, 1 h, 3.55 g. Obv. AYT K M AY CEY ANTΩNEINOC or similar. Laureate bust of Caracalla r. Rev. CEP>ΔΩN. Reverse type B, but with Eross bow and quiver behind him. 

Æ 20, 1 h, 4.03 g, but with antique silver mount.

* Patrae in Achaea, coins of Commodus (not illustrated) showing Eros and Psyche embracing. Their pose (facing, but with their upper bodies half turned towards each other to enable the embrace) is closer to that of the statuary groups than is the case with the Serdica coins.


* Here is a mosaic from Roman Corduba in Spain showing the lovers in a more dramatic embrace.



* To my knowledge, there is no provincial coin that definitely shows Eros with Psyche as a butterfly, as on the following Roman cornelian intaglio (photo courtesy of ACR Auctions)


or on this mosaic from the National Museum in Sofia. 

For false sightings of butterflies, see Type 04 (Prusa ad Olympum”) and Type 09 (Aphrodisias”).


Serdica / Septimius Severus (type A, small module)
Previously unpublished?
Rarity: RRR

Serdica / Caracalla (type A, small module)
Previously unpublished? 
Rarity: RRR

Serdica / Caracalla (type B, large module)
References: Hristova/Jekov; Varbanov 2311-12
Rarity: R

Serdica / Caracalla (type B, small module)
References: Hristova/Jekov; Varbanov 2081 
Rarity: RR

Patrae / Commodus
Reference: RPC IV, 10968
Rarity: RR

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