Sunday, March 13, 2011

Eros and Aphrodite

Eros was not necessarily assumed to be the son of Aphrodite, at least in the earlier Greek period (one version made him the son of Iris, the rainbow, by Zephyr, the west wind), and if he was, the identity of his father was not always clear: Zeus, Hermes, or Ares? In later mythology, however, he is closely associated with Aphrodite, whether as her son, her servant and helper, or her attendant. Sometimes she is surrounded by a plurality of little Erotes, in art, literature and (as we shall see) on the coins too. The anonymous author of a mildly salacious epigram in the Greek Anthology describes a dish with a relief of Aphrodite and the Erotes: Here are four Loves. One fits the garland to his mothers brows, one has his lips at her bosoms fountain, two play at her feet, and the robe covers the place that is next to the thighs of Aphrodite, otherwise wholly undraped (transl. by W. R. Paton).

In the Greek period one city in particular, Nagidus in Cilicia, placed Aphrodite and Eros together on a long series of fine-looking silver staters, from the late 5th century through till about a century later. (There are no coins of Nagidus from the Roman period. The city seems to have disappeared, perhaps swallowed up by one of its neighbours, Anemurium or Celenderis, rather than actually destroyed.) One side of the coins shows a standing figure of Dionysus; the other, Aphrodite enthroned, with Eros either flying towards her in order to crown her (left) or standing behind her throne (right).

There are also numerous Roman Republican issues with Eros (Cupid) in attendance on Venus. These include silver coins of L. Julius Caesar, c.103 B.C., showing on the reverse Venus in a biga drawn by flying Cupids (illustration, of a double-struck coin, by courtesy of Imperial Coins & Artifacts);

coins of Sulla (84-83 B.C.), with Cupid holding a palm-branch facing the diademed head of Venus (illustration, photo courtesy of Andrew McCabe);

silver and Æ coins of L. Memmius Galeria, late second century B.C. (Venus was the tutelary deity of the Memmia gens), here the reverse of a denarius showing Cupid flying above a biga driven by Venus (illustration, photos courtesy of Andrew McCabe); 

and coins issued by C. Julius Caesar and his supporters (the Julians claimed to be descended from the goddess), here the obverse of a denarius of Caesar celebrating his Gallic victories, c. 47 B.C., with a tiny Cupid behind the bust of Venus Genetrix (illustration, photos courtesy of Andrew McCabe) 

and the reverse of a denarius of Mn. Cordius Rufus, c.46 B.C., with Cupid at the shoulder of Venus Verticordia, which is both a reference to Caesar  and a pun on the name of the moneyer (illustration, photos courtesy of Andrew McCabe);

and the following aureus of Octavian, struck in 42 B.C. in Rome (illustration).

(Note: I made no record of the origin of the above photograph. If the owner of the image or of the coin would be so kind as to contact me, Id be happy to add an appropriate acknowledgement, or delete the image if so required).  

Nevertheless, there are many different reverse types on Roman Provincial coins showing Eros together with Aphrodite. In describing these, Ive chosen to follow the systematic arrangement in Max Bernharts study Aphrodite auf griechischen Münzen: Eine numismatische Materialsammlung (Munich, 1936), though sometimes renaming or splitting up his types. Bernharts concern was of course with the portrayal of Aphrodite, and Eros does not actually appear on some of his twenty-one types (those given in italics in the following list):

I. Archaic cult-statue of Aphrodite (= Type 25)
II. The goddess clothed: Aphrodite wearing an Attic chiton (= Type 26)
III. The goddess clothed: Aphrodite bearing a figure of Nike (Aphrodite Nikephoros) (= Type 27)
IV. The goddess clothed: Aphrodite with a dove
V. The goddess clothed: Aphrodite seated (= Type 28)
VI. The goddess semi-clothed: the Melian Aphrodite
VII. The goddess semi-clothed: Aphrodite with a shield (Aphrodite of Acrocorinth) (= Type 29)
VIII. The goddess semi-clothed: Aphrodite with a mirror (= Type 30)
IX. The goddess semi-cothed: Aphrodite holding both hands to her hair
X. The goddess semi-clothed: Aphrodite holding her clothing with one hand (= Type 31)
XI. The goddess nude: the Cnidian Aphrodite
XII. The goddess nude: Aphrodite Pudica (= Type 32)
XIII. The goddess nude: Aphrodite Anadyomene (= Type 33) and Aphrodite swimming (= Type 34)
XIV. The goddess nude: Aphrodite with a sword
XV. The goddess nude: Aphrodite crouching (= Type 35)
XVI. The goddess nude: Aphrodite removing her sandal (= Type 36)
XVII. The Judgement of Paris (= Type 37)
XVIII. Aphrodite riding on an animal (= Type 38)
XIX. Aphrodite Urania
XX. Astarte (= Type 39)
XXI. Aphrodite accompanied by other gods (= Type 40)

Bernhart seems to have overlooked the type of Venus Victrix, a near-naked Venus with the weapons of Mars, and seen from behind, that is commoner on Roman coins, here on a denarius of Sabina (illustration):
but is occasionally encountered on Provincial coins, albeit without Eros, as here on a scarce coin of Julia Domna from Serdica (illustration):
 


 

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