Myth in the Wilcox
The Victory (Nike) of Samothrace
Every human culture has - and needs - myths that instruct and entertain, but the legacy of Classical (Greek and Roman) myth is particularly rich. Since antiquity, myth has influenced almost every aspect of our lives and culture: art (especially painting and sculpture), literature and language, medicine, psychology and dreams, drama (both tragedy and comedy), film and TV, and even religion. A basic knowledge of myths is part of our culture ('cupid's arrow', 'herculean task', 'oedipal complex'). And myths are simply fun to know and tell! According to ancient sources like Hesiod (7th c. B.C.) the universe began in chaos, from which came an early race of gods, the Titans. Their children, the Olympians, overthrew their parents and also suppressed the giants produced by Mother Earth. Of the Olympians, Zeus reigned supreme and populated the world with his children - some gods, heroes or heroines, and mortals. They are the subjects of myths that have come down to us through Greek and Roman authors and art.
Pieces on Display
The Wilcox Collection is lucky to have a number of works that relate to myth. Among our plaster casts of original works we have a selection of sculptures from the Parthenon in Athens (448-432 B.C.), which was dedicated to the goddess Athena (Roman Minerva). These include metopes (panels) with Greeks fighting Centaurs - mythical half-human, half-horse creatures; parts of the frieze, including various gods, and the figure of Dionysos from the east pediment (the triangular space at the front of the building). We have the entire east frieze (not all of it on display); one piece you can see shows Athena with Hephaistos (Roman Vulcan). Many of the originals are now in the British Museum, and may be returned to Greece some day. We also have figures of gods, goddesses and heroes, including two reduced-scale representations of Nike, the goddess of victory (Roman Victoria): the Nike of Samothrace (ca. 190-80 B.C.) and the Nike by Paionios at Olympia (ca. 420 BC), which is an official symbol of the 2004 Olympics in Greece.
Other Olympia sculptures on view are the head of Apollo from the west pediment of the Temple of Zeus (ca. 460 B.C.) and Hermes (Roman copy ca. 100 B.C. in the style of Praxiteles). Our statues include some well-known masterpieces such as the Aphrodite from Melos (ca. 150 B.C.) and the Apollo Belvedere (A.D. 130-40) and the Dancing Faun from Pompeii (2nd c. B.C.). One of our reliefs shows the famous musician Orpheus bidding farewell to his wife Eurydice, who had died; Hermes (Mercury) is waiting to take her spirit to the underworld (1st c. BC/AD). In addition to casts, we also have a bronze head of Medusa, one of the Gorgons whose look could turn people to stone. Many of our original Greek and Roman coins depict mythological figures - see which ones you can identify!
Myths Never End ...
Myths don't end with the Classical world. The symbol of the city of Lawrence is the Phoenix, the bird that renews itself from its own ashes. And KU is the home of the Jayhawk!
Names of Major Classical Deities and their Roles (Roman equivalents are bracketed)
Aphrodite (Venus) - sex, sexuality, love, beauty
Apollo (Apollo) - young men, civilized order, poetry
Ares (Mars) - war, strife, battle
Artemis (Diana) - women, girls, hunters, animals
Athena (Minerva) - war, justice, arts, crafts, weaving
Demeter (Ceres) - agriculture, plant fertility
Dionysos (Liber, Bacchus) - wine, theater, madness
Eros (Cupid) - son of Aphrodite, love and desire
Hades (Pluto, Dis) - death, underworld
Hephaistos (Vulcan) - fire, crafts, weapons, metals
Hera (Juno) - queen of gods, marriage
Hermes (Mercury) - messengers, thieves, business
Hestia (Vesta) - hearth and home
Persephone (Proserpina) - underworld, married to Hades
Poseidon (Neptune) - seas & sea creatures; storms, horses
Zeus (Jupiter, Jove) - king of the gods, married to Hera
wine jar ("pelike")
by the Tyszkiewicz Painter (about 470 BC): Eros scoops up a rabbit