history of myth

Cy Twombly was born this day in 1928. His painting Leda and the Swan, inspired by the Roman myth, is on view on our 4th floor as part of From the Collection: 1960–1969.


[Cy Twombly. Leda and the Swan. Rome 1962. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2016 Cy Twombly Foundation]

Alexander The Great in front of the tomb of Achilles.

This painting in the Louvre Museum is a work of Hubert Robert (1733 -1808) done around 1754.

The subject taken from the Greek rhetorician Claudius Aelianius or Aelian (Varia Historia, XII, 7), writing in the second century CE, and shows the Macedonian king having the tomb of Achilles opened in order to pay a homage to the Greek hero of the Trojan War.

Achilles’ relationship with Patroclus is a key aspect of his myth. Its exact nature has been a subject of dispute in both the classical period and modern times. Thus in 5th-century BCE Athens, the relationship was commonly interpreted as pederastic. Nowadays some see it as a love relationship of an egalitarian homosexual couple. It is the same case as the relationship between Alexander the Great and Hephaestion. The relationship between the Macedonian king and his dearest and closest friend and confidant, lasted their whole lives, and was compared, by others as well as themselves, to that of Achilles and Patroclus. Hephaestion and Alexander grew up in a time and place where homosexual affairs were seen as perfectly normal. Roman and later writers, taking the Athenian pattern as their example, have tended to assume either, that their sexual relationship belonged to their adolescence, after which they left it behind, or that one of them was older, the lover (erastes) and the other was the beloved (eromenos). Claudius Aelianus takes the latter view when he uses just such an expression when describing the visit to Troy: “Alexander laid a garland on Achilles’ tomb and Hephaestion on Patroclus’, indicating that he was Alexander’s eromenos, as Patroclus was of Achilles.” No other circumstance shows better the nature and length of their relationship than Alexander’s overwhelming grief at Hephaestion’s death. The many and varied ways, both spontaneous and planned, by which Alexander poured out his grief are overwhelming. In the context of the nature of their relationship however, one stands out as remarkable. Lucius Flavius Arrianus “Xenophon” (Arrian of Nicomedia, ca. 86 – 160), in his work Ἀλεξάνδρου ἀνάβασις says that Alexander “… flung himself on the body of his friend and lay there nearly all day long in tears, and refused to be parted from him until he was dragged away by force by his Companions.

This painting by Robert (known as Robert des Ruines) is close to Panini, who was his teacher during his long stay of 11 years in Rome, and it is considered to be one of the first productions of the French artist in that city. In the painting by the French vedutista, an architectural fantasy, we see a pyramid similar to that of Caius Cestius in Rome, the ruins of a temple with Ionic columns inspired by the temple of Saturn in the Roman Forum and a round temple, after the Roman temple of Vesta, or the temple of the Sybile in Tivoli. The statue standing at the left-hand side of the canvas is the so-called Antinous of the Belvedere, or Antinous Admirandus, the famous statue in the Pio-Clementino Museum of the Vatican. This statue, correctly identified as a Hermes in the 19th century, was long taken to be a depiction of the beautiful Bythinian lover of Emperor Hadrian, one of the great “eromenos-erastes” relationship of the antiquity.

The Signs As Ancient Mythology:

Aries: ATHENA was the great Olympian goddess of wise counsel, war, the defence of towns, heroic endeavour, weaving, pottery and other crafts. She was depicted crowned with a crested helm, armed with shield and spear, and wearing the snake-trimmed aigis cloak wrapped around her breast and arm, adorned with the monstrous head of the Gorgon 

Taurus: CLYTEMNESTRA was the wife of Agamemnon, ruler of the Ancient Greek kingdom of Mycenae or Argos. In the Oresteia by Aeschylus, she was a femme fatale, who murdered her husband, Agamemnon said by Euripides to be her second husband and the trojan princess Cassandra, whom he had taken as war prize following the sack of Troy 

Gemini: ANANKE was the Greek Protogenos of necessity, fate, compulsion and inevitability. Emerging fully formed at the beginning of time and marking the beginning of it, her arms are entwined with Kronos’, encircling the universe. Together they surrounded all solid matter and divided it into earth, sea and sky. She is the mother of Fates. 

Cancer: PERSEPHONE  was a beautiful Goddess/Queen of the Underworld,wife of the god Hades. She was also the Goddess of Spring Growth, who was worshipped alongside her mother Demeter. 

Leo: APHRODITE was the Goddess of love and beauty. She is especially associated with the islands of Cyprus, Cythera and Kos. There are contradicting myths about her birth one describes the Greek Goddess Aphrodite as rising as an adult from sea foam. This was as a result of her father, Cronus, cutting off Uranus’s testicles and throwing them into the sea. 

Virgo: ERIS goddess of chaos and discord, was not invited to the marriage of Peleus and Thetis. Angered, she rolled a golden apple with the words ‘To the fairest one’. Hera, Aphrodite and Athena fought over who the apple belonged to, until Zeus appointed Paris - prince of Troy - to choose the fairest of the three. 

Libra: SELENE is the goddess of the moon. She is the daughter of the Titans Hyperion and Theia, and sister of the sun-god Helios, and Eos, goddess of the dawn. She drives her moon chariot across the heavens. 

Scorpio: NYX was the goddess of the night, one of the ancient Protogenoi. She was born of Air, and breeding with Darkness produced Light and Day, first components of the primeval universe. Alone, she spawned a brood of dark spirits, including the three Fates, Sleep, Death, Strife and Pain. Nyx was a primeval goddess represented as simply the substance of night: a dark veil of mist drawn forth from the underworld which blotted out the light of Aither. 

Sagittarius: ISIS Goddess of love,the moon,magic,healing and fertility.Isis is a goddess from the polytheistic pantheon of Egypt. She was first worshipped in Ancient Egyptian religion, and later her worship spread throughout the Roman empire and the greater Greco-Roman world

Capricorn: NEMESIS goddess of divine retribution and revenge in Greek mythology. She was born the daughter of Nyx and Erebus, while in some versions she is said to be the daughter of Zeus or Oceanus. She was considered the equivalent of divine retribution and was the personification of equilibrium being dealt out within mortals to ensure that happiness and unhappiness came in equal amounts.

 Aquarius: CASSANDRA was the most beautiful of Priam’s daughters, and the god Apollo fell in love with her. Apollo promised Cassandra the gift of prophecy if she would agree to give herself to him. Cassandra accepted Apollo’s gift but then refiised his advances. Apollo was furious, but he could not take back the powers he had given her. Instead he cursed her, proclaiming that although she would be able to tell the future accurately, no one would believe her. 

Pieces: MEROPE was said to have been so ashamed of her husbands crimes that she hid her face among the stars of heaven, and so the seventh star of the Pleiades faded away from human sight.