Early Roman Empire   :|:   Document

Boat n°3 on Lansdowne relief

ref. : en.1766.2018 | 27 November 2018 | by Francis Leveque
sculpture | Second quarter of IIe century AD
Latium ( Italie )
Twitter Twitter

A mythological scene where Jason and the argonauts are attacked by the men-eating stymphalian birds.

The Lansdowne Relief was unearthed in 1769 during excavations undertaken the site of the Emperor Hadrian’s villa at Tivoli, 120-138 AD, by the art dealer and archaeologist Gavin Hamilton, who sold it to Lord Lansdowne. It is now displayed in the Greek and Roman Gallery of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

This sculpture from Hadrian’s Villa is a dark grey limestone relief. It is beautifully decorated with scenes from Greek mythology, all of which are connected to the sea. From left to right (from the viewer’s perspective) we see Odysseus and the sirens; the wine god Dionysos conveying the gift of wine, in the form of a spreading grape vine, across the sea to Greece; and the Argonauts with the man-eating Stymphalian birds.

dimensions :
- height 56 cm,
- width 181.5 cm,
- depth 23cm

This third scene depicts the Argonauts sailing past the rapacious Stymphalian birds. The Stymphalian Birds were a flock of man-eating birds which haunted Lake Stymphalis in Arcadia. Heracles defeated them as his sixth labour, using first a pair of krotala (clappers, similar to modern castanets) to frighten and drive them away with the noise, then shooting them down with a bow and arrows or with a slingshot. The surviving birds were forced to take refuge on the island of Aretias (modern-day Giresun Island on the southeastern coast of the Black Sea), where they later faced the Argonauts. The birds were frightened away by the sound of the Argonauts’ swords clanging on shields.

The boat is equipped with a mast which seems broken halfway up. It has been extended by a beam that seems to hold in place the right man with his right hand. A small sail seems to propel the ship to the left. This flight is consistent with the rudder coming out of the plating on the right. But the ornaments of bow and stern have been reversed: the stern on the right ends with a disc on which a human face appears, the bow on the left ends with a gooseneck.

An important part of this commentary is borrowed from the analysis of Carole Raddato