Friday, 18 May 2012

A Jug of Wine and Thou

                              One of the most famous of the Greek myths is that of the Minotaur and the labyrinth. I won't go into details now, but the bull-headed creature was killed by Theseus, aided by its half-sister Ariadne, who gave the hero a skein of thread which allowed him to retrace his steps out of the maze. Ariadne and Theseus left Crete on a ship, bound for his home in Athens, and during their journey they arrived at the island of Naxos. They slept on the beach, and in the early morning Theseus set out alone, leaving Ariadne on the island. There is no good reason for this abandonment - there are several versions of the myth, each with a different explanation. Ariadne was, understandably, bereft and wept wildly for her lost love. The god Dionysus found the maiden and instantly fell in love with her. They married and had many children, and after she died (killed by Perseus, in some versions), Dionysus went down into Hades and brought her back, to live with the Gods on Mount Olympus. Dionysus, the god of wine, was known to the Romans as Bacchus. 
Here is a small statue of Bacchus and Ariadne I bought about fifteen years ago, for about a fiver. It's in the Staffordshire pottery style and I suspect that it is a 'fairing', that is, a prize that was won at a fair, just as goldfish or coconuts can be won. There are no identifying marks other than the subject title on the base. 
The figures are based on a Graeco-Roman copy of an earlier Hellenistic marble, from the first or second century CE, which was brought from Rome to London in the 1770s, and is now in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and may well be based on a 4th century BCE bronze panel now in the British Museum. 
The potter Enoch Wood produced a version (now in the Stoke-on-Trent Potteries museum), a pearlware  over-glaze painted piece, which he called Priapus and a Maenad, at some time between 1785 - 1800. The influences can easily be seen in the figures. 
Ariadne prayed to Zeus, who punished  Theseus by making him forget his promise to his father, Aegeus. Theseus had said that if he was returning home safely, he would raise white sails on his ship, but if he had been killed, the sails would be black. He had left Crete with the black sails unfurled, but then forgot to change them. Aegeus, seeing the black sails, killed himself in his grief, thinking his son was dead, by throwing himself into the sea, now called the Aegean Sea after him. 
Home at Last - by Me.
This is a painting I made in 1980, called Home At Last, based on this legend. The title is taken from the Steely Dan song of the same name. If you look carefully, you can see the ship with black sails on the horizon.

1 comment:

  1. Takes me back to when i used to watch the greek myths :)