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  • 08/17/14--13:41: 62: Dogs in Antiquity: China
  • Chinese Mastiff (AIC 1950.1630)

    Welcome to the Ancient Art Podcast. I’m your host and the flea on the hide of antiquity, Lucas Livingston. This is the second of a three-part series on dogs in antiquity.

    SputnikLast time we explored the ancient hairless breeds of the New World and had a look at the popular ceramic funerary effigy of the Colima dog from a couple thousand years ago. We were also introduced to a young celebrity, Sputnik, my cute little hairless Xoloitzcuintli-Chihuahua mix.

    Well, this time on the Ancient Art Podcast we’re heading away from the New World, back across the ocean, not to our familiar stomping grounds of the Mediterranean, but nevertheless to lands we’ve traveled before. We’re off to China!

    Gray WolfDogs and people have been tight for eons. Some of the earliest evidence for the domestication of dogs from wolves goes back about 12,000 years, well before concrete civilization took hold. [1] There’s archaeological evidence of dog-like remains in Belgium from about 30,000 years ago, but it’s thought that that might have been an isolated fluke with no descendants. [2] General consensus is that all modern breeds of dog evolved from the gray wolf. [2] One DNA analysis indicates that all breeds today stem from domestication of the gray wolf in China around 16,300 years ago, which was right around the same time as the domestication of wild rice. So it could be that wolves were domesticated at the same time when humans began to settle down into agrarian societies, and it’s tempting to see a connection there. [3]

    Chinese Mastiff (AIC 1950.1630)Fast forward some 14,000 years and we come to this clay statue of a dog in the Art Institute of Chicago from the Chinese Han Dynasty, roughly 200 BC to AD 200 (so, about 2,000 years ago and roughly contemporary to our Colima dog friend from last time). Typical of many funerary figurines of the Han Dynasty, the figure looks rather like something out of a cartoon, but we can certainly relate to it. The broad face, short muzzle, and powerful build might lead us to identify the breed as the mastiff.

    Chinese Dog (SF Asian)The Art Institute’s mastiff once stood watchful guard over the resident of a tomb. It may represent a trusty guardian and companion from real life, whom the owner wished to take with into the afterlife. The Han-dynasty Chinese called their tombs “subterranean palaces” (digong). [4] And as with any good palace, it would be decked out with all the great stuff you’d want in life and in death. This included wooden and ceramic models of guardians, servants, entertainers, miniature buildings, and indeed dogs. The industrial-strength restraints on the Art Institute’s mastiff betray the raw muscular power that the dog possessed. The colorful glaze that originally highlighted the bronze buckles, tan leather straps, and a shiny coat has deteriorated over time into a shimmering glimmer across the clay body.

    Over 1,000 years prior to our Han mastiff, archaeological remains of fire-cracked bones tell us something about how dogs were regarded in Chinese culture of the Shang dynasty. Turtle shell, bones of oxen, and other animals were cast into the fires by diviners of the Shang dynasty, something like the Marie Laveau’s of 3,500 years ago. The diviners interpreted the cracks in the bones caused by fire, much like reading tea leaves, palms, or cards, and inscribed those oracular prophesies on the bones. While it’s not uncommon for Shang oracle bones to be ground up by today’s apothecaries across China as medicinal dragon bones, thankfully some have escaped the mortar and pestle to be translated by scholars.

    Translations of ancient fortunes inscribed on oracle bones inform us that concerned dog owners would visit the local divination shop in hope that occult magic might shed some light on the whereabouts of a beloved lost dog. And I confess that this seems infinitely more productive than posting “lost dog” signs throughout the neighborhood. But we also learn from oracle bone inscriptions that dogs were a favored stock for animal sacrifice. “Ah, yes, well,” said the diviner to an anxious customer, “The oracle bones remind me that your beloved missing Rover fulfilled an indispensable service for my earlier client.”

    Statue of Lao Tzu in QuanzhouThankfully, by the 5th century, straw dogs replaced real dogs as sacrificial victims for prophecy—yes, model dogs made of straw. The straw dog even makes an appearance in the 6th century BC Taoist philosophical text the Toa Te Ching (Dao De Jing) by Laozi (Lao Tzu). The passage is commonly translated as:

    “The sky and the earth do not care,
    They regard the myriad things as straw dogs;
    The sage does not care,
    He regards people as straw dogs.” [5]

    While the straw dog was a great step forward in canine rights, dogs continued to be butchered in ancient China for burial and for food. Yes, food!

    Much as we discovered last time in our discussion of dogs in the ancient Americas, there’s firm evidence of dogs as food in ancient China. In fact, if one looks hard enough at the archaeological or literary evidence, dogs as a source of protein can be found at some point in time in nearly every region across the world.

    Be sure to check out our next episode as we wrap up our canid trilogy and head back home to the Mediterranean for a look at dogs in the Greco-Roman world.

    If you dig the Ancient Art Podcast, be sure to “like” us on Facebook at and give us a nice 5-star rating on iTunes. You can follow me on Twitter @lucaslivingston and can subscribe to the podcast on YouTube, iTunes, and Vimeo, where you’ll hopefully give us a good rating and leave you comments. You can also email your questions and comments to me at or use the online form at Thanks for tuning in and see you next time on the Ancient Art Podcast.

    ©2014 Lucas Livingston,


    [1] Clutton-Brock, Juliet, “Origins of the Dog: Domestication and Early History”, in Serpell, James, The Domestic Dog: Its Evolution, Behaviour and Interactions with People, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

    [2] Jarrett A. Lobell, Eric A. Powell and Paul Nicholson, “More than Man’s Best Friend,” Archaeology, Vol. 63, No. 5 (September/October 2010), p. 26.

    [3] ibid. p. 28.

    [4] Comforts for the Soul: Han Dynasty Arts for the Afterlife. Exhibition at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, March 01, 2012-October 28, 2012. Retrieved July 18, 2014.

    [5] Laozi, Tao Te Ching, Chapter 5. (Wikisource translation).

    Another translation:

    “Heaven and earth are ruthless, and treat the myriad creatures as straw dogs;
    the sage is ruthless, and treats the people as straw dogs.”

    From Chapter 5. Translation from Chen Guying ed. Laozi zhu yi ji ping jie 老子注譯及評介 (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1984) at 78.

    Here’s a great blog post commenting on the interpretation of this passage:
    “Chapter 5 – Straw Dogs.” The Blog at Ralston Creek Review. June 18, 2013. Retrieved August 17, 2014.


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    This article includes additional highlighted information not found in the video.

    This is the third installment of a three-part series on dogs in antiquity. Sputnik!First we explored the ancient hairless breeds of the New World, including the popular ceramic funerary effigy of the Colima dog from a couple thousand years ago, and we met Sputnik, my awesome, little, hairless Xoloitzcuintli-Chihuahua puppy (okay, he’s 5 years old). Then we traveled to ancient China to look closely at an expressive mastiff figurine from the Han dynasty. Chinese Mastiff (AIC 1950.1630)We learned a little about the roles of dogs in oracles, sacrifice, and the culinary scene (egad!) and read a bit of the Toa Te Ching talking about straw dogs. Now we’re heading home to the Classical World to consider the importance of dogs in ancient Greece and Rome.

    Perhaps the most heartfelt and memorable appearance of a dog coming to us from Greek antiquity is found in Homer’s Odyssey. In Book 17, toward the end of the poem, after 20 years away from home, after the epic slaughter at the fields and citadel of Troy, after the seemingly endless wanderings and adventures on the wine-dark sea, our eponymous hero Odysseus, king of Ithaca, disheveled and unrecognized, finally returns home. Unrecognized by all but one, his ever-faithful dog Argos:

    “As they were talking, a dog that had been lying asleep raised his head and pricked up his ears. This was Argos, whom Odysseus had bred before setting out for Troy. … As soon as he saw Odysseus standing there, he dropped his ears and wagged his tail, but he could not get close up to his master [and] Argos passed into the darkness of death, now that he had seen his master once more after 20 years.” (Homer, Odyssey, Book 17) [1]

    Half a millennium later, we find another heartwarming tearjerker in the loss of Peritas, Alexander the Great’s favorite dog. While the story is mentioned only by the first century Greek biographer and philosopher Plutarch, he tells us that, “It is said, too, that when he lost a dog also, named Peritas, which had been reared by him and was loved by him, he founded a city and gave it the dog’s name.” (Plutarch, Life, LXI.3) [2]

    But life for dogs in ancient Greece wasn’t always so rosy. After the tragic death of the young Patroclus, sidekick to Achilles, against the Trojan hero Hector, we learn the fate of his hounds at his funeral celebration:

    “Patroclus had owned nine dogs who ate beside his table. Slitting the throats of two of them, Achilles tossed them on the pyre.” (Homer, Iliad, Book 23)

    Much as we learned last time in ancient China, dogs were favored by the Greeks as sacrificial victims for purification after death and birth. [3]

    Ashurbanipal mastiff (British Museum)Despite the presence of dogs at the Trojan War, evidence in the Iliad and Odyssey suggests that the Greeks at the time of Homer primarily used dogs for hunting, shepherding, and guarding, not warfare. In fact, there’s scanty visual or literary evidence of the Greeks employing war dogs even through the Classical era. [4] The closest suggestions of war dogs comes to us through accounts not of the Greeks, but of the cultures to the east of Greece: Neo-Assyrian, Persian, Lydian, etc. As recorded in Aelian’s De Natura Animalia, we do find one potential Greek war hound memorialized in a mural in the Stoa Poikile in the Athenian Agora, who followed his hoplite master into battle against the Persians at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. More likely, however, this was a faithful guard or hunting dog rather than a trained war dog:

    “An Athenian took with him a Dog as fellow-soldier to the battle of Marathon, and both are figured in a painting in the Stoa Poecile, nor was the Dog denied honour but received the reward of the danger it had undergone in being seen among the companions of Cynegirus, Epizelus, and Callimachus. They and the Dog were painted by Micon, though some say it was not his work but that of Polygnotus of Thasos.” (Aelian, De Natura Animalia, vii. 38) [5]

    A particularly stunning representation of hounds in action is seen on the so-called Alexander Sarcophagus in the Istanbul Archaeology Museum. This is not the sarcophagus of Alexander the Great. Rather, it depicts Alexander in the Battle of Issus on one side and a lion hunt on the other. Interestingly and supporting the scanty evidence of the Greeks using dogs in warfare, the hounds depicted on the sarcophagus appear only in the hunting scenes.

    As today, dogs in classical antiquity appeared in many breeds. Ancient authors and inscriptions give us the names of some of these breeds. Native to Greece, the swift Laconian or “Spartan” breed was well regarded for its hunting prowess. Far heavier and ideal as a sturdy guard dog or hunter of large game was the Molossian, possibly an ancestor to the modern mastiff. And the Cretan was supposedly a crossbreed of the Laconian and Molossian. That’s Cretan, not cretin. Big difference. As for non-Greek breeds that the Greeks enjoyed, the Celtic Vertragus, with its lean, sleek features, is often cited as an ancestor to the modern greyhound.

    Seated dog mosaic (AIC)Now, I’m not a card-carrying American Kennel Club certified dog show judge, but when I look at this mosaic in the Art Institute of Chicago, I see many of the features that the Greeks admired in the Vertragus breed. Around AD 150 in his Cynegeticus (a treatise on “Hunting with Dogs”), the Greek military historian Arrian wrote that Vertragus dogs:

    “…in figure, the most high-bred are a prodigy of beauty; — their eyes, their hair, their colour, and bodily shape throughout. Such brilliancy of gloss is there about the spottiness of the parti-colored, and in those of uniform colour such glistening over the sameness of tint, as to afford a most delightful spectacle to an amateur of coursing. (III.7) … Marble statue of a pair of dogs (British Museum)[They should] be lengthy from head to tail; for in every variety of dog, you will find, on reflection, no one point so indicative of speed and good breeding as length; … [with] light and well-articulated heads. … Their eyes should be large, up-raised, clear, strikingly bright. The best look fiery, and flash like lightning, resembling those of leopards, lions, or lynxes. (IV.5) … Let the ears of your [vertragi] be large and soft, so as to appear from their size and softness, as if broken. The neck should be long, round, and flexible … tails fine, long, rough with hair, supple, flexible, and more hairy towards the tip. (V)” (Arrian, Cynegeticus) [7]

    The Jennings Dog (British Museum)Ancient authors tell us that getting a large guard dog is the first thing a farmer should do. “Never, with [a dog] on guard,” says Roman poet Virgil, “need you fear for your stalls a midnight thief, or onslaught of wolves, or Iberian brigands at your back” (Georgics, III.404ff) Though some authors are sure to point out that you ought make sure the dog was trained by a shepherd rather than hunter, so it’ll guard the sheep rather than chase the rabbit. A white dog is best for the shepherd, so you may see it clearly at night, while a black dog is ideal for the farm to terrify thieves in day and for stealth in darkness.

    Arrian wrote the aforementioned Cynegeticus as something of a supplement to an earlier treatise on dogs also entitled Cynegeticus written by Xenophon in the late 5th or early 4th century BC. Xenophon tells us that we should “give the hounds short names, so as to be able to call to them easily.” [8] House of the Tragic Poet, PompeiiA few of the names he suggests include Dash, Rover, Sparky, Killer, and Blossom (in order, that’s Ormé, Poleus, Phlegon, Kainon, and Antheus). If you want to see the whole list, I’ve published a table of about 50 ancient Greek dog names mostly from from Xenophon’s Cynegeticus written in Greek and Latin scripts as well as their approximate English equivalents. You’ll find that list online at Sometimes I’ve taken some interpretive liberties with the English equivalent. When browsing the list, if you have a suggestion for a more accurate English name, please leave a comment or shoot me an email at

    Terracotta askos in the form of a dog (Met)But not all dogs in the classical world were bred for sport or duty. Supposedly originating from the island of Malta, the Melitan was a small, long-haired, short-legged lap dog. Evidence suggests that small dogs, although not new, came to be favored during the Roman period, particularly in Roman Britain. Grave Stele of Melisto (Harvard)This might signify a shift in attitude toward ownership of dogs as pets rather than solely the traditions of hunting, herding, and guarding. This shift could also betray the taste for conspicuous consumption among the Roman elite, where one could afford the expense of small, showy, “non-utilitarian” pets. [9]

    Perhaps the most famous dog from Greco-Roman antiquity is Cerberus, the three-headed guard dog at the entrance to Hades, the underworld. As we learned in the first of our three episode on “Dogs in Antiquity” when we explored the hairless dogs of the ancient Americas, dogs hold prominent places as emissaries of the dead and guides for the soul … or to use the fancy Greek word, “psychopomp.” [10] With the ancient funerary effigies of the Colima culture from West Mexico, the form of the dog would often be altered or enhanced with a double body, turtle shell, human face, or some other transmutation. Did this serve to grant the canine emissary greater spiritual power while also evoking a deliberately supernatural or otherworldly guise? It seems, then, perhaps not too far fetched to see a similar rationalization for granting three heads to Cerberus.

    If you want to read more about dogs in the Greco-Roman world, be sure to browse the footnotes of this essay, where you’ll find a good number of additional resources. One of those good resources is the article “Dogs in Ancient Greece and Rome” in the Encyclopaedia Romana website, hosted by the University of Chicago. You’ll also find a fair number of references there for additional reading. [11]

    If you dig the Ancient Art Podcast, be sure to “like” us on Facebook at and give us a nice 5-star rating on iTunes. You can follow me on Twitter @lucaslivingston and can subscribe to the podcast on YouTube, iTunes, and Vimeo, where you’ll hopefully give us a good rating and leave you comments. You can also email your questions and comments to me at or use the online form at Thanks for visiting the Ancient Art Podcast.

    ©2014 Lucas Livingston,


    [1] Jarrett A. Lobell, Eric A. Powell and Paul Nicholson, “Constant Companions,” Archaeology, Vol. 63, No. 5 (September/October 2010), p. 28.

    [2] James Grout, “Peritas,” Encyclopaedia Romana.

    [3] Jarrett A. Lobell, Eric A. Powell and Paul Nicholson, “Sacrificial Dogs,” Archaeology, Vol. 63, No. 5 (September/October 2010), p. 30.

    [4] E. S. Forster, “Dogs in Ancient Warfare,” Greece & Rome, Vol. 10, No. 30 (May 1941), pp. 114-117.

    [5] Aelian, On the Characteristics of Animals (De Natura Animalia), Trans. A. F. Scholfield, Harvard University Press, 1954, p. 150 (vii. 38).

    [6] James Grout, “Dogs in Ancient Greece and Rome,” Encyclopaedia Romana.

    [7] Arrian, On Coursing (Cynegeticus), Trans. J. Bohn, London, 1831.

    [8] Xenophon’s Cynegeticus. “On Hunting ” in Xenophon in Seven Volumes, 7. E. C. Marchant, G. W. Bowersock, tr. Constitution of the Athenians. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA; William Heinemann, Ltd., London. 1925.

    [9] Jarrett A. Lobell, Eric A. Powell and Paul Nicholson, “Dogs of Roman Britain,” Archaeology, Vol. 63, No. 5 (September/October 2010), p. 31.

    [10] Jarrett A. Lobell, Eric A. Powell and Paul Nicholson, “Guardians of the Soul,” Archaeology, Vol. 63, No. 5 (September/October 2010), p. 35.

    [11] James Grout, “Greek and Roman Dogs,” Encyclopaedia Romana.

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  • 12/16/14--06:59: 64: Striding Horned Wild Man
  • The following blog post features additional content not included in the video podcast. Enjoy!

    Striding Figure (AIC)

    Hello fellow explorers! Welcome back to the Ancient Art Podcast. I’m your intrepid host, Lucas Livingston. If you’re wondering why we jumped from episode 62 to 64, it’s because the past two episodes were released exclusively as illustrated blog posts at If you haven’t yet done so, I hope you’ll check out episodes 62 and 63 — parts two and three in my three-parter on dogs in antiquity. The trilogy explores the hairless dogs of ancient Mexico and Peru, dogs in ancient China, and our canine companions in Greco-Roman antiquity.

    Striding Figure (AIC)Here’s a cool cat strutting his stuff down easy street. With his arms a-swinging and legs a-striding, this little guy in the Art Institute of Chicago is on the go. That glorious green skin might have you thinking of the purity of Chinese jade, but this dude’s made of copper. One solid cast piece. He’s also one of the oldest pieces in the Art Institute, being around 5,000 years old. He’s dated to about 3,100 BC from the Proto-Elamite culture. (The what!?) Yeah, I know. Proto-Elamite is one of the earlier cultures around that hotbed of civilization we call the ancient Near East. Frankly with the litany of different cultures and civilizations from Mesopotamia and its environs, if you don’t know your Assyria from your Ubaid, you’re in fairly good company.

    Striding Figure (AIC)To seriously geek out for a minute though, the Proto-Elamite period is recognized for its distinct hybridization of early Mesopotamian and western Iranian motifs, as the people of the Elamite region became culturally and linguistically independent from Sumer. Animals engaged in human ritual activities held significant meaning. [1] And the composite man-beast hero descending from the mountain already had a long history stretching back some 2,000 years earlier. [2]

    Re Horakhty (AIC 1894.261)At first glance, his posture might remind us of the pharaohs, gods, and standing figures of Ancient Egypt, but it doesn’t take long to see how very different he is from the Egyptian type. The left leg is forward, sure, but unlike the Egyptian form, the right leg is also at an angle forming a realistic stride. His knees are also bent, like we do when we walk. His arms are also pumping as in mid stride. Note while the left leg is forward, his right arm is extended, realistically capturing a typical human gait. This reminds me of ancient Greek vessels with painted images of athletes running races. We can often identify which footrace is depicted based on the positions of the runners. Arms are tucked in closely for the long distance dolichos, whereas it’s an all out sprint for the short stadion. Our guy here seems somewhere in between with arms tucked in and both feet planted on the ground. It seems he might be out for a power walk.

    His fists are a bit stylized, clenched with thumbs resting on top. There’s something emblematic about that gesture — assertive yet not quite poised to strike. Do we have a subconscious psychological reaction of submission, deference, or assent to that gesture? As political commentators like to point, it’s a gesture often made at the podium by American presidents. Do speech coaches know something we don’t? It’s also a gesture paralleled in royal iconography of Sumer, the emerging Mesopotamian superpower contemporary to our figurine, along with his thick-banded cap, wide belt, and artificial-looking beard. [3]

    How about those horns, though!? The great curling horns of the ibex crowning his head evoke the mountainous spirit of the western highlands of Elam. His cap’s pointy ears further accentuate his beastly side as does the vulture wrapped about his torso like some sort of superhero’s cape. In fact, when I was recently looking at this figure in the gallery, one of the museum security officers asked me, “So, was this like an action figure?” Precisely! Maybe not a kid’s toy with kung fu action grip, but “action figure” certainly captures the heroic, mythological, and spiritual power embodied in a mere 7 inch figure. Striding Figure (Met)But wait, there’s more. Act now and you’ll get two for the price of one! That’s right, there are two ancient horned action figures! One belongs to a private collection and has been on loan to the Art Institute of Chicago; the other is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

    So, who is he? Is he a god-king shrouded in animalistic associations? Is he a mythological hero; some sort of Proto-Elamite Hercules? We remember that Hercules wrapped himself in the pelt of a lion, while our hero here sports the raptor cloak (another carnivorous predator). Both figures embody a sort of “wild man,” an ancient figural type capturing our struggle to grasp our nature as a civilized creature living in a world of beasts, and ultimately derived from the wilds. It’s worth pointing out, though, that the distance in time between our friend here and the earliest mentions of Hercules is about the same as the distance between the earliest mentions of Hercules and us today. Translation, about 2,500 years. Enkidu Vanquishing the Bull of Heaven (Walters)A little closer to home, though, our action hero might remind us of Enkidu from the ancient Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, the wild man and eventual sidekick to the eponymous hero, Gilgamesh. While Enkidu first emerges from the wilds, raised by animals and ignorant of human civilization, he gradually tames throughout the story. We might draw a parallel here to the Proto-Elamite culture living between two worlds: the animistic, shamanistic, tribal society of the highlands and the urbanized, theistic, bureaucratic monarchy of Sumer.

    The two versions of our hero — the Metropolitan’s and the one in the Art Institute — are just different enough to make us wonder if they came from separate molds or if the variations are simply from aeons of separate wear and tear. The one in the Art Institute still has some bits of shell or stone forming the white of the eyes. The pupils are lost, but were made of some other sort of separate contrasting material.

    Rare Exports

    We’ve seen here through various associations and affiliations the many different interpretations that the striding figure may evoke. The Metropolitan calls their figure a striding horned demon, but I comfort myself in speculating that they’re using demon in the original Greek context of a divine entity, nature spirit, or deified hero. [4]

    But I’ll tell you one thing in my own personal opinion.
    We have before us an ethically nebulous minion.
    With those curly elf boots and big bushy beard,
    Horns soaring atop his cute pointy ears,
    When I say this indeed you’ll surely feign sick,
    But he may be a prototype for jolly Saint Nick!

    What? Santa, you say? Well, you’re clearly insane.
    But I’m speaking of course of the less popular vein,
    Of the horned wicked Santa of unfashionable lore,
    Like the Nordic Julbocken, surely related to Thor.
    Knecht Ruprecht and Perchta, Belsnickel, Zwarte Piet
    Are but some of the sidekicks Santa brings on his beat.

    But the one most inspired for a good Christmas fright
    Is none other than Krampus … an Austrian Elamite?
    Two years ago as I previously warned you,
    There’s an honored tradition that the Church cannot undo.
    Search in my archives for the great Christmas Devil.
    Since the dawn of the ages in the Wild Man we revel.
    For a topic befitting the learned on campus
    Click on

    Krampus on rocking horse      Krampus

    Thanks so much for tuning in to the Ancient Art Podcast and for all the support over the years. If you dig this shot of educational espresso, please consider leaving a little something in the tip jar. Just head on over to and click on the juicy “Donate” button. Any amount helps me pay for bandwidth and keep’n it real! And if you can’t spare a buck or two, give me a fat five star rating and comment on iTunes, subscribe, thumbs up, and share my YouTube channel, like and share the podcast on Facebook at, and follow me on Twitter @lucaslivingston. If you wanna drop me a line, go to or email me at

    ©2014 Lucas Livingston,


    [1] Art of the First Cities: The Third Millennium B.C. from the Mediterranean to the Indus. Ed. Joan Aruz with Ronald Wallenfels. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2003, p. 43.

    [2] ibid. p. 46.

    [3] “Recent Acquisitions: A Selection: 2007–2008.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, v. 66, no. 2 (Fall 2008), p. 6.

    [4] For reference to the Striding Figure as a “horned demon,” see:
    “Recent Acquisitions,” p. 6 & Art of the First Cities, p. 46

    For the ancient Greek meaning of “demon,” see the entry in the Perseus Project’s Greek Word Study Tool.

    Visit my Flickr gallery for this episode for detailed image credit.

    Additional credits:

    Maria Girbiat
    Anon – Medieval Dance Tunes
    Performed by Paul Arden-Taylor
    Released in the public domain

    Put your hands up (funky mix)
    Licensed under Creative Commons

    Rutger Muller
    Haunting Music 1
    Released in the public domain

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    My thanks to the Jane Austen Society of North America, Greater Chicago Region for the opportunity to research and present this lecture. This web page gathers many of the quotes, references, and resources featured in my presentation.

    Age of Indulgence: Beer and Wine in the Era of Jane Austen
    Jane Austen Society of North America, Greater Chicago Region
    Sunday, July 12, 2015

    Goose Island Brewpub
    The Karl Strauss Room
    1800 North Clybourn
    Chicago, IL 60614

    The writings of Jane Austen open for us the door to the culinary lives of late 18th & early 19th century England. Her personal letters offer us a glimpse of the consuming passion for alcoholic indulgence, including and especially beer and wine. This lecture presented by Lucas Livingston links the writings of Jane to historically accurate processes for brewing beer and winemaking and brings to light many sources, cultural practices, and traditional small-batch recipes. From the orange wine of Godmersham Park to the spruce beer rations of the British military, fermented beverage was as much a daily commodity as food and water. As the intriguing drinks so casually mentioned by Jane and her contemporaries nearly faded into history, the current international craft beer revival has breathed new life into the experimental beer and wine revolution. We will also discuss a few modern commercial and home-brewed recipes that capture the spirit of beer and wine in the era of Jane Austen.


    Most of the following quotes from Jane Austen’s personal letters are from the Brabourne Edition, available online.

    The Bottle being pretty briskly pushed about … the whole party … were carried home, Dead Drunk. – Jack and Alice

    Sir Arthur never touches wine, but Sophie will toss off a bumper with you. – The Visit

    By-the-bye, as I must leave off being young, I find many douceurs in being a sort of chaperon, for I am put on the sofa near the fire, and can drink as much wine as I like. – Letter to Cassandra, Nov. 6, 1800

    I believe I drank too much wine last night at Hurstbourne; I know not how else to account for the shaking of my hand to-day. You will kindly make allowance therefore for any indistinctness of writing, by attributing it to this venial error. – Letter to Cassandra, Nov. 20, 1800

    The orange wine will want our care soon. But in the meantime, for elegance and ease and luxury, the Hattons and Milles’ dine here to-day, and I shall eat ice and drink French wine, and be above vulgar economy. Luckily the pleasures of friendship, of unreserved conversation, of similarity of taste and opinions, will make good amends for orange wine. – Letter to Cassandra, June 30, 1808

    The real object of this letter is to ask you for a receipt, but I thought it genteel not to let it appear early. We remember some excellent orange wine at Manydown, made from Seville oranges, entirely or chiefly, and should be very much obliged to you for the receipt, if you can command it within a few weeks. – Letter to Alethea Bigg, Jan. 24, 1817

    I find time in the midst of port and Madeira to think of the fourteen bottles of mead very often. – Letter to Cassandra, Oct. 26, 1813

    The orange wine will want our care soon. But in the meantime, for elegance and ease and luxury, the Hattons and Milles’ dine here to-day, and I shall eat ice and drink French wine, and be above vulgar economy. – Letter to Cassandra, June 30, 1808

    We hear now that there is to be no honey this year. Bad news for us. We must husband our present stock of mead, and I am sorry to perceive that our twenty gallons is very nearly out. I cannot comprehend how the fourteen gallons could last so long. – Letter to Cassandra, Sep. 8, 1816

    1816 – The Year Without a Summer

    “But all this, as my dear Mrs. Piozzi says, is flight & fancy & nonsense–for my Master has his great Casks to mind, & I have my little Children”–it is you however in this instance, that have the little Children–& that I have the great cask–, for we are brewing Spruce Beer again… – Letter to Cassandra, Dec. 9, 1808

    I had once determined to go with Frank to-morrow and take my chance, &c., but they dissuaded me from so rash a step, as I really think on consideration it would have been; for if the Pearsons were not at home, I should inevitably fall a sacrifice to the arts of some fat woman who would make me drunk with small beer. – Letter to Cassandra, Sep.1 8, 1796


    A Very Simple And Easy Method Of Making A Very Superior Orange Wine.
    This is a very simple and easy method, and the wine made according to it will be pronounced to be most excellent. There is no troublesome boiling, and all fermentation takes place in the cask. When the above directions are attended to, the wine cannot fail to be good. 
    – Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, 1861

    To every gallon of water put 4 lbs of honey, and for 20 gallons add as follows: 2 oz of nutmeg, half an oz of mace, half an oz of cloves, 2 ozs of race-ginger, all just bruised, and sewed up in a linene bag; then add a large handful of sweet briar with the above, boil it all together for an hour, skimming it all the time it boils; then drain it off. Add a little balm to it, if it does not work, turn it and let it stand a day or two. Then add the juice of 6 good lemons, with the rind of them and your bag of spices in the barrel. Stop it up close for 10 or 12 months. Then bottle it for use. You may add some more spices if you like it. – Martha Lloyd’s Household Book

    The traditional Georgian Wassail is a non-alcoholic mulled cider and was, hence, not included in this discussion. The popular alcoholic analog of mulled wine, however, is found throughout much of Europe, including my personal favorite, German & Austrian Glühwein. The mulling spices make for a good beer, too! C.f. yours truly’s Morgue Brewing Krampuslauf.

    Two gallons of water, two oz. Cream of Tartar. Two lbs of lump sugar. Two lemons sliced, 2 oz. of ginger bruised. Pour the water boiling on the ingredients, then add two spoonfuls of good yeast; when cold bottle it in stone bottles, tie down the corks. It is fit to drink in 48 hours– a little more sugar is an improvement; glass bottles would not do. – Martha Lloyd’s Household Book

    Spruce beer is to be brewed for the health and conveniency of the troops which will be served at prime cost. Five quarts of molasses will be put into every barrel of Spruce Beer. Each gallon will cost nearly three coppers. – 71st British Highland Regimental Orders, June 1759

    [Each post should keep enough molasses on hand] to make two quarts of beer for each man every day. – 71st British Highland Regimental Orders, Winter 1759

    Take 7 Pounds of good spruce & boil it well till the bark peels off, then take the spruce out & put three Gallons of Molasses to the Liquor & and boil it again, scum it well as it boils, then take it out the kettle & put it into a cooler, boil the remained of the water sufficient for a Barrel of thirty Gallons, if the kettle is not large enough to boil it together, when milkwarm in the Cooler put a pint of Yest into it and mix well. Then put it into a Barrel and let it work for two or three days, keep filling it up as it works out. When done working, bung it up with a Tent Peg in the Barrel to give it vent every now and then. It may be used in up to two or three days after. If wanted to be bottled it should stand a fortnight in the Cask. It will keep a great while. – Journal of General Jeffrey Amherst (1717-1797), Governor-General of British North America

    To make Small Beer – Take a large Sifter full of Bran Hops to your Taste – Boil these 3 hours. Then strain out 30 Gall. into a Cooler put in 3 Gallons Molasses while the Beer is scalding hot or rather drain the molasses into the Cooler. Strain the Beer on it while boiling hot let this stand til it is little more than Blood warm. Then put in a quart of Yeast if the weather is very cold cover it over with a Blanket. Let it work in the Cooler 24 hours then put it into the Cask. leave the Bung open til it is almost done working – Bottle it that day Week it was Brewed. – Notebook of George Washington, 1757


    In Memory of Thomas Thetcher a Grenadier in the North Reg. of Hants Militia, who died of a violent Fever contracted by drinking Small Beer when hot the 12th of May 1764. Aged 26 Years. In grateful remembrance of whose universal good will towards his Comrades, this Stone is placed here at their expence as a small testimony of their regard and concern. 

    Here sleeps in peace a Hampshire Grenadier,
    Who caught his death by drinking cold small Beer,
    Soldiers be wise from his untimely fall
    And when ye’re hot drink Strong or none at all.
    This memorial being decay’d was restor’d by the Officers of the Garrison A.D. 1781.
    An Honest Soldier never is forgot
    Whether he die by Musket or by Pot.
    The Stone was replaced by the North Hants Militia when disembodied at Winchester, on 26 April 1802, in consequence of the original Stone being destroyed. And again replaced by The Royal Hampshire Regiment 1966. – Epitaph of Thomas Thetcher, Winchester Cathedral, Hampshire, England.


    • New Belgium’s Pear Ginger Beer
    • Forbidden Root’s Shady Character
    • Forbidden Root’s Sublime Ginger
    • Forbidden Root’s Root Beer
    • Bass Ale
    • Goose Island India Pale Ale
    • Goose Island Honker’s Ale
    • Goose Island Vintage Ale Series

    Steele, Mitch. IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale. 2012.
    An authoritative history of the India Pale Ale, English October Pale Ale, and English brewing.

    “Chapter 37 – Beverages – Recipes.” Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, 1861. <>
    A virtual treasure trove of traditional recipes for alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks popular in 19th century England, including Orange Wine, Elderberry Wine, Ginger Wine, Ginger Beer, Effervescing Gooseberry Wine, Lemon Wine, Malt Wine, and more.

    Beverages <>
    A helpful collection of some alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages popular to Jane Austen’s time.

    Orange Cream <>
    With a brief discussion of orange wine and the history of oranges in England.

    Ross, Josephine. Jane Austen: A Companion. Rutgers University Press, 2003, p. 53-56.

    Drinking Tea, Wine, and Other Spirits in Jane Austen’s Day. April 30, 2008. <>
    Enjoyable, but replete with hyperbolical statements and little to no citations.

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    Hello and welcome back to the Ancient Art Podcast. I’m your host, Lucas Livingston.

    Thousands of visitors to the Art Institute of Chicago pass by this modest object every day, yet hardly give it a second thought. At first glance, this may not look like the most exciting object in the museum; certainly not against celebrated treasures like Rembrandt, Van Gogh, and Picasso. But its subdued appearance belies its cultural and aesthetic significance at the crossroads of East and West, where great empires collide.

    It stands at about a foot tall (30.5 centimeters) and is made of phyllite, a type of soft stone similar to soapstone. We call this a Gandharan Stupa Reliquary. What eldritch incantation did I just utter? Well, let’s break down that name starting from the end. Simply put, a reliquary is a container for a relic. So, what’s a relic? You may have visited a place of worship once that housed the relics of some sacred person. Museums can be full of relics. Bits of cloth, slips of paper, stones, and human remains. There’s a relic of the tooth of St. John the Baptist in the Art Institute housed within a beautiful gothic reliquary.

    So, reliquary?


    So, what’s a stupa? “Stupa” is a Sanskrit word meaning “heap.” A stupa is a mound or dome-shaped memorial or funerary monument prevalent in India, South Asia, and the Himalayas. Stupas contain the remains of Buddhist holy figures or other relics. It is said that when the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, died some time in the 6th through 4th centuries BC, his body was cremated and the ashes were entombed under eight stupas.

    Later in the 3rd century BC, the Indian emperor Ashoka the Great of the Mauryan Dynasty excavated Buddha’s ashes and is said to have subdivided the ashes among 84,000 stupas spread across his expanding Buddhist empire. Stupas are not just tombs, but holy shrines, to which Buddhist devotees make pilgrimages for veneration. One of the most famous stupas is the Great Stupa at Sanchi, which was commissioned by Ashoka. Its appearance changed substantially during its first few centuries under successive rulers—expanding, elaborating, reconstructing, and destroying over time.

    Stupas come in all sizes, from monumental architectural feats to modest objects like the Art Institute’s example. A reliquary like this may have once contained a spiritual text, a sutra, perhaps some mortal remains, or perhaps even another miniature model stupa. The bell-shaped dome is solid stone, but the cylindrical pedestal it’s standing on has a small cavity carved out for the relic. Not too long ago, I was involved with a 3D-scanning project at the Art Institute and we actually replicated the Gandharan stupa reliquary using a 3D printer. While the original lives behind glass, the 3D-printed replica helps you get a better sense of its many different parts and how it once functioned.

    Ashoka’s Great Stupa at Sanchi and the Art Institute’s Gandharan stupa differ vastly in scale and shape. Upon closer inspection, though, they actually share the same fundamental architecture. The basic form consists of a dome on a cylindrical base. The dome is like an egg, a symbol of creative potential and the cycle of death and rebirth. Atop the dome is a symbolic altar suggestive of the sacrifice of one’s self and the world in order to achieve nirvana. It’s crowned by a parasol, which commonly suggested a person of high status. And the pole of the parasol imaginarily goes on forever as an axis-mundi, the axis of the world uniting heaven and earth.



    So, finally, in our title of “Gandharan Stupa Reliquary,” what does Gandharan mean? Astute subscribers to the Ancient Art Podcast will recall our discussion of a Gandharan bodhisattva back in episode 7. Gandhara was a kingdom that thrived in the 1st through 5th centuries of the Common Era. The culture goes back centuries earlier as the eastern frontier of the Persian Empire’s Achaemenid Dynasty. The Gandharan region today corresponds to parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and we even see the name “Gandhara” reflected in the modern city name “Kandahar.” With the collapse of the Persian Empire at the hands of the Macedonian general Alexander the Great, the Gandharan region pivoted for a few centuries between Hellenistic Greek rule and the Indian Mauryan Empire. It flourished as a cultural crossroads of Greece, India, and Persia, which we see reflected in the arts, including our little stupa.

    So, now we know what a Gandaharan stupa reliquary is and then some. Stick around with the Ancient Art Podcast if you want to learn more about the culture that built it, the significance of those four pillars surrounding the dome, and most importantly what this has to do with Star Wars.

    Don’t forget to visit for detailed credits and more. I hope to see you next time on the Ancient Art Podcast.

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  • 01/18/16--17:49: 66: Star Wars and Stupas
  • Welcome back to the Ancient Art Podcast. I’m Lucas Livingston. We’re picking up where we left off with the Gandharan Stupa Reliquary in the Art Institute of Chicago. You’ll want to be sure to check out that episode first if you’re not already familiar with what a Gandharan stupa reliquary is. This episode tells us a little bit more about its time period, the four pillars around the dome, and maybe a little something else fun.

    By the time of our stupa’s manufacture, Gandharan was under Kushan rule, a Central Asian culture that had moved in to Gandhara during the 1st century. While the Kushans widely promoted the Buddhist faith, they supported the artistic influences of centuries of local Hellenistic Greek rule, characterizing a style we call Greco-Buddhist art. Remember, we had talked last time about how this region was under Greek rule for centuries following the conquest of Alexander the Great.

    The four pillars capped by fierce lions face the four cardinal directions and roar out the teachings of Buddha. They also pay homage to the famous lion pillars and stupas erected by Ashoka the Great some centuries earlier. You remember Ashoka, the Indian Mauryan Emperor we met last time, who ruled in the 3rd century BC. Some of you might recognize the most famous Lion Capital of Ashoka, which comes from the sacred site of Sarnath. [Creepy music] Um, no, wrong Sarnath. [Pleasant music] That’s better. The sacred site where Buddha gave his first sermon in a deer park. The Lion Capital of Ashoka also served as the basis for the National Emblem of India.

    There’s an intriguing resemblance between the Gandharan stupa architecture, Ashoka’s Lion Capitals, and the architecture of the ancient Achaemenid Persian site of Persepolis. We explored Persepolis in depth in episodes 10, 11, and 12 of the Ancient Art Podcast in relationship to the Athenian Acropolis. It’s less widely researched than the Persian-Greek connection, but I don’t doubt that the Persian emperors conscripted Gandharan vassals to help build Persepolis, much as they did with the Greeks under their rule. And in turn, this basically taught Gandharan architects how to build like a good Persian, a trade that they then took back home to Gandhara and perhaps also to the Indian Mauryan Empire of Ashoka.

    But looking at this incredible multi-columned temple-like object and all this talk about Ashoka might have you thinking about another conspicuous comparison — the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, of course, and Jedi Padawan Ahsoka Tano. While you likely wouldn’t confuse Ashoka the Great and Ahsoka Tano even in a dark alley, frankly, I think the resemblance between the two structures is uncanny. I would not be in the least bit surprised if the designers of Coruscant’s Jedi Temple were looking at stupa architecture for influence. And the relationship between Star Wars and Buddhism is far from superficial. The Star Wars universe draws heavily from Buddhism and more broadly from South and East Asian faiths, cultures, traditions, and philosophies. Alas, that’s something we don’t have time to get into, so you’ll just have to research that on your own.

    Thanks for taking the time to explore the Art Institute’s Gandharan Stupa Reliquary with me. Don’t forget to visit for detailed credits and more. I hope to see you next time on the Ancient Art Podcast.

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    For years, walking through the cavernous corridors of the Art Institute of Chicago, I had long passed by this crowded carving. The figures are certainly well formed. The artist has paid careful attention to detail with the flow of drapery and modeling of faces, but overall the composition is a little bit busy. The figures are cramped together. The use of scale to express perspective is a little bit awkward. But one day I spent a few minutes looking more closely at it and, you know, now I definitely have a crush.

    Here we see two stories from the life of Buddha. The top scene depicts Buddha sitting in a cave with his legs crossed in the lotus position and his hands folded in his lap in a posture of meditation.

    Do you see the two lions seated beneath Buddha? You might recall the Gandharan stupa reliquary from our last discussion (episodes 65 & 66) with its tall, lion-topped capitals, much like Ashoka the Great’s famous Lion Capital of Sarnath, one of the earliest work of Buddhist art. Lions were adopted as Buddhist symbols crying out the message of Buddha in four directions.

    Who are all those other people surrounding Buddha with their hands together in supplication? Well, if we look at the label in the museum or on the website, we learn that this shows Buddha Shakyamuni meditating in the Indrashala cave. This scene likely depicts a tale from before Buddha’s birth in what you might consider Heaven. This is the realm of the Devatas (like angels or minor gods). Here the Devatas approach the eternal soul of the yet-to-be-born historical Buddha Shakyamuni and inform him that it’s time to be reborn on earth as a human, Siddhartha Gautama, who will ultimately become an enlightened Buddha — Buddha Shakyamuni. In some versions of the tale the Hindu gods Indra and Brahma even make an appearance among the surrounding figures. You might see this as a way to couch Buddhism in a sympathetic light for Hindus.

    This tale is not very popular today. You might find it in Southeast Asia — in Thailand and Cambodia. But this is not a work of Southeast Asian art. Keen viewers of the podcast will recognize this as a work of Gandharan origin — nearly 2,000 years old — from present-day Afghanistan or Pakistan, where this narrative was also once popular. It’s not unheard of in Gandharan Buddhist art to find images showing Indra and Brahma. I imagine this must have suited the Gandharans well on the frontier of their Buddhist kingdom adjacent to the Hindu realm of India.

    Then what do we have down below in this busy scene? Here we see Buddha surrounded by more people. There are a few figures to the far right behind him with simple robes and closely shorn hair — those must be his followers — and he’s being welcomed by some well-dressed folks in front of him. I particularly like those people in the balcony at the upper left. And then there’s one fellow prostrating himself at Buddha’s feet. This is a well known scene of one of the many Buddhas of the past. He is known as Dipankara, the “Lamp Bearer,” and is said to have lived 100,000 years ago. Remember, Buddha is not a name, but an honorific title given to someone, who has attained enlightenment. There have been many Buddhas in the past and there will be many Buddhas in the future. The prostrate figure is an ascetic hermit by the name of Sumedha. He was once a rich Brahmin, but he cast off all that materiality presumably to find inner peace through the path of Dipankara Buddha. When Dipankara approached, Sumedha kneeled down and laid his long matted tresses of black hair over a mud puddle so that Dipankara may cross without soiling his feet. With this kind gesture of piety, Dipankara revealed a magnificent prophesy to Sumedha that he, Sumedha, in the ages of the future will come to be a Buddha called Shakyamuni.

    These two tales of different incarnations of Buddhas go hand in hand. The scene at the bottom prophesies the forthcoming of Buddha Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha, through the words of a previous Buddha no less. And the scene at the top shows that moment in Heaven when the eternal soul of the forthcoming Shakyamuni is called upon to be born and begin that magnificent prophesied life on earth.

    What truly strikes me about this image, though, aside from the beautiful juxtaposition of blended legends, is the presence of one individual standing behind Dipankara. Among the slender figures with long robes of flowing drapery and closely shorn or beautifully coiffed hair, there’s this one muscular, wild haired, bearded brute wearing a simple loin cloth and holding some sort of cudgel.

    Who is this curious guy and what’s his business? Well, if the possible inclusion of the Hindu gods Indra and Brahma in the Buddhist scene above wasn’t mind-blowing enough for you, brace yourself. This is none other than that legendary hero from Ancient Greece, Hercules. What on earth is Hercules doing in a Buddhist image? We’ll tackle that question next time in an episode I’m thinking of calling “Hercules and Buddha Walk into a Bar.”

    Thanks for tuning in to the Ancient Art Podcast . If you wanna drop me a line, go to or email me at Like and share the podcast on Facebook at, subscribe, thumbs up, and share my YouTube channel, and follow me on Twitter @lucaslivingston

    Thanks and see you next time on the Ancient Art Podcast.

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    Hello and welcome back to the Ancient Art Podcast, pumping straight into your soft brain matter since 2006. I’m the cerebral spelunker of antiquity, Lucas Livingston.

    Last time in episode 67 we learned all about a Buddhist relief carving in the Art Institute of Chicago. It has a really long name. It’s called a “Relief with Buddha Shakyamuni Meditating in the Indrashala Cave (top) and Buddha Dipankara (bottom).” We met the two Buddhas depicted here, Shakyamuni and Dipankara, and found out that the story on the bottom presages the narrative on top. For the full picture, be sure to go back and check out episode 67, “Buddha’s Past Lives – Dipankara and Shakyamuni” at Now the promised bombshell. The reason you all came back. This muscular, shaggy-bearded, club-wielding brute next to Buddha. Why in the world in a Buddhist work of art does the legendary Greek hero Hercules make an appearance?

    Remember, this is a nearly 2,000 year-old work from the ancient Gandharan kingdom, present day Pakistan and Afghanistan. We’ve looked at Gandharan art repeatedly in the podcast, because I’m a big fan of it and I’m steering this ship.

    This is the perfect storm of time and place where east meets west, where cultures and faiths collide in the multi-century long wake of the campaigns of Alexander the Great and his Greek successors. It’s a melting pot of Silk Road merchants, itinerant monks, and diplomatic envoys from Parthia and Sassania to the west, the Chinese Han dynasty to the north, and Indian kings to the south. The Gandharans were the successors to centuries of Greek rule under the Seleucids, the Greco-Bactrian kings, and the Indo-Greek kings. The artistic style is commonly called Greco-Buddhist by art historians today.

    Many Greek images, stories, and customs blended with the early evolving Buddhist traditions of Gandhara, such as, frankly, representing gods in human form (and that includes Buddha) and also the inclusion of Hercules as none other than the body guard of Buddha.

    In Greek mythology, Hercules was a great protector of mankind against forces of evil. He slew the murderous Nemean Lion. He vanquished the venomous multi-headed hydra. He traveled the world in search of the apples of Hesperides and even fought his way through the Greek Hell, Hades, to wrestle and kidnap the bloodthirsty, three-headed hellhound Cerberus. And he did all of these tasks at the bequest of a king named Eurystheus. Hercules was a supporter of kings. He was considered the ancestor of the Macedonian dynasty of kings. Alexander the Great had the image of Hercules struck on his coins. Many Hellenistic kings after Alexander included the image of Hercules or increasingly of Alexander dressed as Hercules as a way of saying, “See, I have the support of Hercules. I am the new Alexander.”

    As the Gandharan region transitioned from Greek to Buddhist rule, the vocabulary of leadership wasn’t wholly reinvented. But in this new Buddhist world of selflessness — and I’m tossing around that deeply philosophical term fairly casually — in this new world, it wasn’t the king who was supported by Hercules, but Buddha, the new overarching king and figurehead. Through his Twelve Labors, Hercules was also a famous wanderer, as was the Buddha, so they were just two peas in a pod.

    This role of Hercules as the bodyguard of Buddha seems to have originated in Gandhara and spread out from there. [1] He was considered a bodhisattva and given the name Vajrapani, meaning “He, who holds the ‘vajra’ in his hand.” We know the vajra. We learned all about it in episode 17 with Kartikeya, god of war seated on his peacock. The vajra is the thunderbolt, a weapon used to defend the Buddhist way. And thanks to episode 7 about the Art Institute’s statue of a Gandharan bodhisattva, we know what a bodhisattva is — like a Buddhist Saint. Some heavily hellenized Gandharan representations depict Hercules with his requisite knobby club, while others may eschew that convention for a more eastern-looking vajra thunderbolt scepter. As the image of Vajrapani travels away from the Greco-Buddhist Gandharan tradition in both time and place, he deftly adapts to a regional appearance. In China, Vajrapani becomes the patron saint of the Shaolin monastery. And in China the lion skin cloak of Hercules makes no sense, so Vajrapani is given a tiger skin cloak instead. Ah, that’s better.

    As he moves further east, we see Vajrapani developing a distinctly Japanese personality, being identified with the “Nio,” guardians standing at the entrances to Buddhist temples. The Nio have a conspicuously muscular build with fiercely combative expressions. Their ferocity frightens away evil spirits and unruly vices that would corrupt us and hinder our Buddhist journey to salvation. One popular Nio has the name “Shukongojin.” That translates literally as the “Vajra-wielding God,” though conventionally we refer to him as the “Thunderbolt Deity.” “Shukongojin” and “Vajrapani” both basically mean the same thing: “the one who holds the vajra,” or once upon a time the knobby club of Hercules. Incidentally, if you plug the kanji characters for “kongo” (金剛) into Google Translate, you get “King Kong.”

    And lastly we find another class of Buddhist deities similar to Nios called Wisdom Kings. In Sanskrit that’s “Vidyaraja,” “Mingwang” in Chinese , “Myō-ō” in Japanese, and in Tibetan Buddhism they’re called “Herukas.” By golly it’s tempting for me to see the name “Hercules” in the Tibetan word “Herukas,” but that’s pure conjecture on my part and I’m sure any true Tibetan scholar could set me straight.

    But still, hopefully your mind is blown, because I know mine is. Just think about it. We’ve followed the long journey of Hercules from the Grecian Mediterranean to the Buddhist temples of Japan seeing him adapt and mutate as the master of disguise and the ultimate superhero defender of righteousness.

    Thanks for tuning in to the Ancient Art Podcast. If you dig the podcast, please consider leaving a little something in the tip jar. Just head on over to and click on the juicy “Donate” button. Any amount helps me pay for bandwidth and keep’n it real! And if you can’t spare a schilling, how about a nice five star rating and some comments on iTunes, subscribe, thumbs up, and share my YouTube channel, like and share the podcast on Facebook at, and follow me on Twitter @lucaslivingston. If you wanna drop me a line, go to or email me at

    Thanks and see you next time on the Ancient Art Podcast.

    [1] For a discussion that Hercules effectively replaced Indra in the role of supporter of Buddha, see Katsumi Tanabe, “Why is the Buddha Sākyamuni Accompanied by Hercules/Vajrapāni? Farewell to Yaksa-theory,” East and West, Vol. 55, No. 1/4 (December 2005), 363-381.

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    Captain Sputnik’s Carney Barnacle turned into Lord Wolfhart’s Pimped-Out Pennsic Ride

    Because why would you roll with a plain Radio Flyer when you could rock with a pimped out DIY medieval wagon canopy?


    The SCA scene has a reputation for some serious DIY mods, whether help encourage a more authentic medieval experience or to turn your camping into glamping. Carving out a niche for the next gen of SCAdians, there’s no shortage of Pintrest pins and Facebook groups dedicated to accessorizing your Middle Ages minor. And that extends to transportation.

    Total cost of materials (minus tools): Under $20. Having never before purchased PVC pipe, I was shocked how inexpensive it is. We purchased ours from a big box home improvement store in 10-foot lengths for about $1.50 each.

    What you need:

    • ~36″ of 3/4″ PVC pipe (to be cut into four 9″ lengths)*
    • ~202″ of 1/2″ PVC pipe (cut to various lengths; see below)*
    • 4 PVC caps
    • 4 PVC 3-way joints (could only find with one end threaded, so had to get 4 threaded-to-non-threaded couplers)
    • 24 washers
    • 8 bolts (wanted 1.75″ long but found only 1.5″ and 2″, so had to opt for 2″)
    • 8 nuts
    • 8 rubber caps
    • rubber mallet (worth the investment; we can’t tell you how many uses we’ve found for this!)
    • wrench
    • file
    • tape measure
    • permanent marker
    • power drill with various drill bits and screw heads (or a screw driver)
    • vice
    • saw


    *Measure your wagon. That will determine how wide and long to cut the pipe. The height is entirely your own preference. You want it to be tall enough for your child to sit comfortably and easily enter and exit, but not so tall that it becomes awkward and wobbles too much when on the go. Consider also the additional length that the joints will provide. Your pipe lengths can exceed your wagon dimensions by an inch or two. This will produce a taper towards the bottom, i.e. wider in the headspace. In the photos below I coincidentally used a length of PVC pipe that I already had lying about to assist with measuring.

    carneybarnacle 65 carneybarnacle 64 carneybarnacle 62 carneybarnacle 61 carneybarnacle 63

    My final pipe lengths:

    • x4 9-inch lengths of 3/4″ pipe
    • x4 26-inch lengths of 1/2″ pipe for canopy height
    • x2 33-inch lengths of 1/2″ pipe for canopy length
    • x2 16-inch lengths of 1/2″ pipe for canopy width

    How to cut PVC:

    I used a circle saw. It was messy. Shredded PVC flecks will get everywhere, but they brush up easily. It would be smart to hold the pipe with a vice. See also 3 Ways to Cut PVC Pipe – wikiHow.

    For the Draw Bridge:

    • 3 small hinges
    • 2 gate latches (wishful thinking; right now we use bungees cords)
    • saw
    • screw driver

    This was a prior modification, which isn’t detailed in this post. Hopefully it’s pretty straight-forward from the photos.

    carneybarnacle 77 carneybarnacle 78

    Step 1

    Cut the 3/4″ PVC pipe into four 9″ lengths. These will be permanently bolted to the wagon walls to serve as the holsters for easily inserting and removing the canopy.

    Use the tape measure and marker to apply a dot at each cut line. If you prefer, you could use the file to score the pipe at the cut line instead. Before marking the pipe, do the math! My pipe came in 10-foot (120″) lengths. (Measure it, because it was actually 120.5″)

    Step 2

    carneybarnacle 70Now that you’re done with the dangerous power tools, you can open a beer or pour yourself a horn of mead. My choice was 18th Street Brewery’s Sour Note Peach Ghose. It goes well with Iron Maiden.

    Optional: If any lengths of pipe were accidentally cut a bit too long, you may wish to file them down so all lengths are uniform. Small discrepancies like 1/8″ won’t make much of a noticeable difference in the end.

    File at least one end on each of the four lengths of 3/4″ “holster” pipe, since these ends will be permanently exposed even when the canopy is not in place (unless you come up with some sort of clever capping solution).

    Step 3

    Drill small holes through the flat surface of each of the caps to permit rain water razzleberry juicy juice to drain. Then use the rubber mallet to pound the caps onto the bottom ends of each 9″ holster.

    Step 4

    Size up the holster pipes to the four corners of your wagon. Use the marker to place dots where you want to attach the holsters to the wooden railings using bolts. In my experience, each corner was slightly different, so the bolt holes were not uniformly distributed on each pipe. You’ll want to drill two holes on each pipe for greater stability.

    Step 5

    Drill holes through your marks on the pipe. Drill all the way through the pipe, both sides. Tip: I drilled the lower hole first all the way through, then the upper hole on only one side. I then aligned the pipe to the wooden wagon railing, then drilled through the railing at the lower hole while holding the pipe in place. Then I bolted the pipe to the railing (only finger-tight) and drilled the other side of the pipe’s upper hole and through the wooden railing, just to be sure everything lined up.

    Step 6

    After having drilled all holes through the pipe holsters and wooden railings of your wagon, attach the holsters with bolts and washers using the wrench and screw driver. I put washers on both sides of the wooden railings. I used 3 washers per bolt, putting 2 washers between the pipe and railing due to the width of the PVC cap on the bottom. Don’t over tighten. You don’t want to warp your pipes!

    carneybarnacle 79 carneybarnacle 73 carneybarnacle 75

    Step 7

    carneybarnacle 72Assemble the canopy. You’ll need the rubber mallet to fully join the pipes to the 3-way. Use the wrench to screw on the threaded couplers. Some threading of the coupler may remain visible. I could not fully tighten it even with a wrench.

    Step 8

    carneybarnacle 83Cut rubber caps to appropriate length and apply.



    Fahrvergnügen! You’re done. Paint, drape, and decorate however you see fit. Have fun storming the castle!

    carneybarnacle 81 carneybarnacle 80 carneybarnacle 76

    Carney Barnacle Expansion Pack!

    How to make PVC look like wood.

    Paint job with a standard wood stain looks great! Use 100-grit sand paper to get rid of any printed markings on the pipe. Then give is a quick, heavy scouring with 60-grit. Then a nice smoothing with 100-grit. Apply stain and let it dry thoroughly for 24 hours.

    IMG_6368 IMG_6391 copy2 IMG_6391 copy


    Um … Oops! Lesson Learned


    We left the wagon outside our tent covered with a clear plastic tarp to protect it from inclement weather. The next day, it looked like this. Our best guess is that the sunshine and tarp created an inferno and warped the pipe. I guess we didn’t get high-temperature-resistant pipe. Also, perhaps best not to store under a tarp in direct sunlight. Well, we have plenty of pipe left and it’s easy enough to replace the warped section.

    Update (6/2017):

    Some new 1/2″ 3-way elbow joints and a new length of pvc and we’re back in game! Found these on Amazon:

    FORMUFIT F0123WE-WH-10 3-Way Elbow PVC Fitting, Furniture Grade, 1/2″ Size, White (Pack of 10)

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    Hey folks! This is Lucas Livingston from the Ancient Art Podcast, serving up hot meals of antiquity since 2006 with a healthy side of smack! Yeah, that’s right. 10 years. A good decade now. Going way back to when smartphones were still cool and your friends were telling you all about why you gotta join this Facebook thing.

    So I got 2 things I wanna tell ya now:

    1. There’s this awesome class coming up at the the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute. It’s a 3-part series called “Drinking in Antiquity” and I’m teaching it. It’s on 3 Saturdays in 2016, October 8, Nov 12, and Dec 10. We’ll cover Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, Mongolia and Central Asia, the Silk Road, and ancient Greece. We’re gonna visit the collections in the Oriental Institute and University of Chicago’s Smart Museum, and we’re gonna get “experimental” with multiple ancient-inspired beer tastings. If you’re interested, visit

    2. So, we’re gonna try something different and change up the podcast. In a perfect world I love producing the glitzy hi def video episodes. The reality, though, is that the effort has become rather prohibitive for me at this current point in my life. Don’t worry! The Ancient Art Podcast is still here, but I’m going to switch over to publishing a largely audio podcast for a while and see how that goes. I’ll continue to produce a simplified video version for YouTube, where video continues to make the sense. And I’m still going to show my love for the arts and material culture, but with this new turn in the road towards audio, we’ll likely stray into the broader realm of narratives about the ancient world. I’ve got plenty of fodder with the legends of Dionysus and, heck, I could do a whole series on boozing it up in ancient times, combining my passions for antiquity and brewing! But first up, you and I are going to take the little journey down the Silk Road. So strap on them sandals, dust off your camel, and buckle up, because episode 69 of the Ancient Art Podcast is just over that sand dune!

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  • 09/23/16--10:20: 69: On Ramp to the Silk Road
  • Greeting weary travelers and welcome to the Ancient Art Podcast. I’m Lucas Livingston, the Polo to your Marco on our thrilling journey of ancient adventure.

    Imagine once-upon-a-time hundreds of years before the Internet superhighway, there was once a vast network connecting the distant lands of the Far East with cultures of the wine dark Mediterranean. From the comfort of familiar surroundings, people across the known world could enjoy global music and browse exotic imports at a networked bazaar … and all before the advent of electricity. We call this network the Silk Road. For all y’all under the age of 20, this Silk Road’s got nothing to do with that illicit online social forum. [1] No, my Silk Road’s got your Silk Road beat by over 2000 years! Stretching thousands of miles from China’s capital Changan in the Far East to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, spanning thousands of years from as far back as the 2nd century BC up to the 14th century, the Silk Road was a revolution in cultural exchange. [2] The term “Silk Road,” however, is really a misnomer. Silk was just one of the many commodities exchanged along this route. Some other popular goods included spices, tea, ceramics, other textiles, metals, and minerals like cobalt. The term “Silk Road” also reflects a strong western bias, since silk was the most precious good making its way from east to west. Had a term for the Silk Road been coined by a Chinese scholar rather than by a 19th century German historian, we might well call it the “Horse Road.” Horses were such a popular commodity exported to China from Central Asia throughout antiquity as possessions of prestige, sport, and warfare. That 19th century German historian, by the way, was Baron Ferdinand von Richthofen, who is largely overshadowed in modern history by his brash nephew, Manfred von Richthofen, better known as the WWI flying ace the Red Baron.

    Returning to the blue mineral cobalt, that’s a perfect example of the beautiful network of exchanges happening through the Silk Road. Cobalts was mind in Persia and exported to China, where it was ground down and utilized in Chinese underglaze blue and white porcelain pottery of the Yuan and Ming dynasties. This Chinese pottery, in turn, was highly prized in the west, and so made its way on merchant caravans across the desert sands back to Persia. This beautiful exchange ultimately broke down when cobalt deposits were finally discovered in China and the Persians at last developed their own underglaze blue and white pottery technique, but the purist would say that it pales in comparison to Chinese examples.

    Returning to terminology, the Silk Road is also a misnomer because there was no single road. No on ramp to the Silk Road, here. It was a vast network of interconnected mercantile and pilgrimage routes.

    Yes, pilgrims traveled these routes as much as merchants. In fact, much as our Internet today conveys knowledge in addition to commodities like music and movies, the Silk Road can be credited as a vehicle for the transmission of ideas as much as if not more so than a pathway for exchanging physical goods.

    Most significantly, one such idea that spread along the Silk Road is Buddhism. Buddhism originated in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains, perhaps around the 5th century BC, though recent discoveries might push that date back a century or so. [3] This new faith caught serious traction and spread rapidly across the plains of India and throughout the Himalayas, including Nepal and Tibet, where it blended with the native animistic faith called Bon. Now, that alone is a topic for another episode, but this is why Tibetan Buddhism is so very distinct today from many other forms of Buddhism in India, China, Korea, and Japan.

    Funerary Urn (Hunping), China, Western Jin dynasty, late 3rd century, Art Institute of Chicago, 1987.242.
    Funerary Urn (Hunping), China, Western Jin dynasty, late 3rd century, Art Institute of Chicago, 1987.242.

    In the first couple centuries of the Common Era, Chinese Confucian and Doaist religious scholars traveled along these precarious trade routes across the Himalayas and into India to learn more about this mystical foreign faith called Buddhism. They returned with sutras or spiritual texts and Buddhist images, which helped establish and grow this fledgling faith beyond the Himalayas. There’s a jar in the Art Institute of Chicago, which beautifully exemplifies the earliest contact and understanding that China had with Buddhism. [4] It dates to the Western Jin dynasty of the 3rd century, when Buddhism was first beginning to make inroads into China. It’s a little bit funky visually. Rather busy. There’s a whole lot going on with this jar. The jar is a symbolic funerary urn called a “hunping.” No actual cremains were placed inside this urn, but it served as a palatial spiritual dwelling for the soul. Decorating the vessel is a myriad of miniature ceramic figurines. Nestled amid the many birds, monkeys, bears, dragons, people, and Chinese Daoist immortals, we see a cute, little image of Buddha just barely poking his head out. You know it’s Buddha, because he’s seated in a meditative posture and sports his characteristic topknot and halo. Ok, wait! Don’t send the hate mail. That is, “…his characteristic ushnisha and aureole.” After a few centuries, China became dominated by Buddhism, but it’s fascinating to see at this early stage how Buddha simply blends in with a medley of native Chinese faiths and figures.

    Buddhism didn’t only appeal to hermit monks and nuns, but also caught traction with the itinerant merchant class as a faith denouncing the rigid social hierarchy of the caste system, untethered to ancient traditions, and spreading broadly across the networks of the Silk Road.

    The cultural heyday of the Silk Road’s mercantile economy was China’s Tang Dynasty from 618-907. There was an unprecedented wealth of foreign goods and cultural influence making its way into China at this time. You might regard this as a golden age of cosmopolitanism and multiculturalism.

    Camel and Rider, China, Tang dynasty (618–907 A.D.), first half of 8th century, Art Institute of Chicago, 1969.788a-b.
    Camel and Rider, China, Tang dynasty (618–907 A.D.), first half of 8th century, Art Institute of Chicago, 1969.788a-b.

    Suggestive of this cosmopolitanism is a marvelous assembly of ceramic tomb figurines in the Art Institute, which reconstructs the spectacle that the citizenry of 8th century China would have experienced as a merchant caravan traipsed into Changan off the dusty trails of the Silk Road. [5] Groomsmen lead horses and a Bactrian camel, while a rider deftly balances on the camel’s bouncing back. The rider pulls on now lost reigns as the camel rears its head, seeming to erupt in a gurgle characteristic of the breed’s cantankerous behavior. Looking closely at the faces of the human figures, with their heavy brows, sharp cheekbones, receding hairlines, and enlarged noses, the exaggerated expressions are on the verge of caricature and betray the distinctly non-Chinese features of central Asian merchants. Why? These ceramic figures were not made for just anybody. They cost quite a pretty penny and could only be afforded by nobility and the elite aristocracy. Why would an elite member of China’s upper class chose to decorate their tomb with representations of foreigners? It’s unclear why, but at the very least this is evocative of the rich multiculturalism rampant in the Tang dynasty, that a Chinese aristocrat would choose to be buried surrounded by foreigners.

    Check out the marvelous glazing technique of these ceramic figures. This lovely multicolor drizzle and spatter effect is characteristic of the Tang Dynasty. It’s called “three-color” glazing or “sancai.” If you look close enough, you might find more than three colors, but it gets at the point that the artists were working with a limited palette for the lead-based glazing technique. Sancai is limited to the Tang Dynasty and profoundly stands out among the subdued glazing traditions throughout the rest of China’s history.

    Another introduction to the artistic repertoire of the Tang Dynasty leads us to my favorite topic. You guessed it — alcohol. Okay, maybe not beer this time, but wine will serve as a close second. It’s during the Tang Dynasty that we see the introduction of grape wine to China and, when you know what to look for, you begin to see wine motifs springing up all over the place.

    But we’ve run out of time, so we’ll just have to save that discussion for later. Be sure to tune in next time when we dig up the dirt on vines and wines in art at our roadside tavern along China’s Silk Road only on the Ancient Art Podcast.



    [1] “Silk Road (marketplace),” wikipedia.

    [2] Art Institute of Chicago, “The Silk Road and Beyond: Travel, Trade, and Transformation,” Museum Studies, 33.1 (2007), p. 10.

    [3] James Morgan, “‘Earliest shrine’ uncovered at Buddha’s birthplace,” BBC News, 26 November 2013.

    [4] Funerary Urn (Hunping), China, Western Jin dynasty (A.D. 265–316), late 3rd century, stoneware with olive-green glaze and molded and applied decoration, Art Institute of Chicago, 1987.242.

    [5] Silk Road Caravan, Ancient Art Podcast’s online gallery at the Art Institute of Chicago.

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    Chinese ceramic figurine of a horse
    Horse, China, Tang dynasty (618–907 A.D.), first half of 8th century, Art Institute of Chicago, 1981.1212.

    Hello friend! Welcome! I’m Lucas Livingston, your barkeep at this roadside inn called the Ancient Art Podcast. Why don’t you pull up a stool and get comfortable while I weave a tale of great adventures from a long lost age.

    This is Ancient Worlds, a segment of the Ancient Art Podcast where we choose a single work of art as a launchpad for inspiration. Here we unpack the stories, history, myths, and culture from antiquity through a modern lens and with tongue firmly planted in cheek. If you’re listening to the audio episode, you can see the works of art we’re talking about at

    Picture it: China, mid-9th century AD, although no one around us reckons time that way, but we’ve heard stories of people in a far off land to the west where “AD” might mean something. To us, though, it’s the tenth year of Dazhong during the reign of Emperor Xuanzong, known also as Li Chen of the Tang dynasty. The dynasty is in its twilight years, only we don’t quite know it yet.

    Last time in episode 69 we took the “On Ramp to the Silk Road.” We ran across some pilgrims making a devotional journey to Dunhuang and learned a little bit about a faith called Buddhism making its way into China. Then we hitched a ride with a merchant caravan heading east, let’s say from the Persian province of Sogdiana to Chang’an, the capital of China’s mighty Tang dynasty. Heavily ladened with bolts of cotton, animal hides, delicate spices, and fragrant fruits, I’m sure our caravan will make a pretty penny once it reaches its destination. So here we find ourselves. While doing our best to stay upwind of the Bactrian camels, we admire the magnificent horses of the caravan’s inventory. These are the famous horses of the Fergana valley, highly prized as extreme luxury steeds at the Tang court in China, dubbed the “Horses of Heaven” or the “blood-sweating horses.” When worked at a frenzied pace, the breed of horse was said to literally sweat blood.

    As popular as the Fergana horses are in life in China’s Tang dynasty, so too are they in death. It’s practically requisite that noble tombs would contain a ceramic figurine of a lavishly colored Fergana horse. You find these horses in museum collections around the world and even among the stars of the Milky Way.

    (audio clip from Star Trek: The Next Generation, season 1, episode 3, “Code of Honor”)

    I’m sorry, Captain Picard, but for all your archaeological expertise, you have disappointed me. Tang, not Song.

    Looking closely at the horses in our caravan, we see some lovely decorations dripping off them. Along with the usual horse tack, we have some charming garlands festooning our horses from chest to rump and even decorating their muzzles. This isn’t my first merchant caravan and I’ve come across such horses before. The garlands usually dangle decorative plaques or floral medallions, but our horses are different. That brilliant white steed up in front has a beautiful vine leaf motif and the fiery red charger at the rear sports what appear to be clusters of mouthwatering purple grapes. I think our horses are not only commodities themselves, but our Central Asian merchant friends are cleverly capitalizing on the free real estate of their horses to advertise the grape wine that they bring for sale. Ah, yes, friends, grape wine is making a big splash in Tang dynasty China.

    The last time we saw a fermented beverage with grapes in China was around 7000 BC in the prehistoric Neolithic era and that was the indigenous Chinese wild grape. That beverage seems not to have made it into the historic era, being popularly supplanted in the first few millennia BC by grain alcohol from millet and rice. Conventionally, scholars call this millet and rice beverage “wine,” but I just as soon call this a “beer.” The distinction is often blurred in antiquity. If you wonder what it tasted like, mix a cocktail of gluten-free sorghum beer and saké rice wine. That’ll taste nothing like China’s early beer, but after a few of those cocktails, you won’t care.

    Archaeological discoveries have only recently revealed to us the secrets of China’s Neolithic wine. There are some helpful references in the footnotes to this episode at Famously within the craft beer scene, Delaware’s Dogfish Head Brewery teamed up with University of Pennsylvania biomolecular archaeologist Dr. Pat McGovern to brew a modern fermentation inspired by the 9000 year old recipe. Brewed with grapes, hawthorne berries, honey, and rice, the ancient ale Chateau Jiahu is commercially available, although hard to come by.

    Chinese literati and poets have long pondered the origin of wine. Once you get past the idea that it was a gift from the gods, folk wisdom around the world conventionally holds that beer, wine, or mead was an accidental discovery. A text from the 2nd century tells us that:

    “The origin of wine began with the Ancient Kings. Some say it was (made by) I Ti, others say it was Tu K’ang. In fact, it began when discarded rice was fermented and it accumulated a rich fragrance after a long period of time in a trunk. It was because of this, rather than any secret method (the wine that was produced.)”

    Whereas a text from the 11th century called the “Treatise on Wine” simply cuts to the chase, admitting that “as for who was the first one who invented wine, I can only say that it was a certain wise person.” [1]

    Our caravan is making camp for the night at a simple fortified enclosure somewhere in the wilds of China along the northern route of the Silk Road. It’s important to provide protection from bandits to ensure the safe travel of goods along the network. I see the leader of our caravan making a handoff to the soldiers at the outpost. A little baksheesh never hurts. Some of the caravan’s precious cargo to help warm their bones during this chilly desert night. A small skin of grape wine. The cheap stuff, I bet. The merchants are being so generous as to share a little with us too, so let’s accept their hospitality.

    The Fergana Valley, the source of our prestigious horses, is also famous for its grape cultivation and wine production. A Chinese encyclopedia from some time between the Han and Tang dynasties records that:

    “The Western regions possess a grape wine which is not spoiled by the accumulation of years. A popular tradition among them states that it is drinkable up to ten years, but if you drink it then, you will be drunk for the fullness of a month, and only then be relieved of it.” [2]

    Admiration for wine of the Fergana Valley, also romantically dubbed the Grape Valley of the Flaming Mountains, came from both directions. The Roman historian Strabo praised the enormous production and superior quality of wine from this region, saying it’s so good that you don’t even need to add any resin to it! High praise, I’m sure. [3]

    Perhaps China’s earliest recorded introduction to the grapes of this region comes from the late 2nd century BC when the emperor sent a diplomat and officer named Zhang Qian as an emissary to establish treaties and explore the lands to the western fringes of the world. After numerous trials on multiple journeys over a span of 25 years, Zhang Qian returned from distant lands with enlightening accounts and exotic goods. Among the souvenirs he brought home to his emperor was were cuttings of the domesticated Eurasian grapevine, which were planted and cultivated in the imperial palace so the emperor could enjoy this delicacy locally sourced. [4]

    You don’t get much of an industrial scale level of grape and wine production, though, until the Tang dynasty. With the expansion of Tang China to Iranian and Turkish lands to the west, we see a sudden explosion of grapes and wine for the privileged. With the conquest of Gaochang along the northern rim of the Taklamakan Desert around the year 640, Chang’an began to demand royal tribute of grapes, raisins, syrup, and wine. [5] A much mentioned and peculiarly distinct type of Central Asian grape was known as the “mare’s teat.” I’m not a big fan of the name, but apparently it was a fittingly descriptive sobriquet of the oblong and deeply brownish-purple grape lauded as much as a delicacy in its own right as for the quality of wine it produced, to the extent that the emperor in Chang’an himself enjoyed mare’s teat grapes in his “Grape Gardens” of the Tabooed Park. I guess that was kind of like the early Forbidden City. Emperor Mu Tsung in early 9th C once said of a cup of this wine, “When I drink this, I am instantly conscious of harmony suffusing my four limbs—it is the true ‘Princeling of Grand Tranquility!'” [6]

    For all the popularity of Central Asian wine in our Tang China, there’s a cultural undercurrent of resentment of the aims taken to acquire it, especially among the soldiers stationed far from home at China’s remote outposts and on distant military campaigns. Ostensibly, their mission is to protect the borders from ravenous hordes and uphold the sovereignty of the emperor, yet the reality of the situation is not lost on them. The Tang poet Li Qi, who lived from 690 to 751, captured the sentiment of these soldiers, composing, “Every year we bury our war dead in the sharp grass, / But all we guard are grape vines on their way to China.” [7]

    And now it’s halftime. I want to thank those who have helped keep the podcast afloat:

    Shirlee H., Susan C., Faye A., Susan H., Lawrence S., Rosemary H., initials C. B. aka “retired,” Paul C., Carolina K., Phyllis B., Luella A., and certainly not least Sue E.

    Thank you for supporting the Ancient Art Podcast. If you want to help the podcast pay for web hosting, bandwidth, and keepin’ it real, visit and click on the big “Donate” button. Whether it’s a dollar or more, every bit helps. You can also help by writing a nice iTunes review. Just search iTunes for Ancient Art Podcast.

    So, we were reading some poetry. There’s no shortage of poetry about wine in Tang China. The two often go hand-in-hand. In the artistic and intellectual community, intoxication often serves as a lubricant for inspiration and creativity, bringing one into contact with a more profound aspect of being. Getting tipsy is also a means of political protest. Tales of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove from a few centuries earlier resonate in Tang China. These wizened intellectuals represent a turning point in social liberty. Stories and paintings of the Seven Sages place them gathered in the Bamboo Grove discussing metaphysics and philosophy, playing music, writing poetry, and getting tipsy on wine. This form of recreation — namely excessive drinking — was a civil protest attacking the moderation urged by Confucianism and the social rigors demanded of their political station. Through intoxication they were dismissed from the obligations of chaotic political life and intrigues. [8]

    One of China’s greatest poets is Li Bo. He lived from 701 to 762 in the Tang dynasty. We have about 1000 poems by him today, thanks to some very helpful Chinese anthologies of great poetry. In addition to his fame as a poet, he is equally notorious as a profound drinker. He is the most famous member of a scholarly group in Chang’an nicknamed the “Eight Immortals with the Wine Cup.” A member of the Chang’an court once wrote of him:

    “I have as my guest probably the greatest poet that ever lived. I have not dared to recommend him to your Majesty because of his one flaw … he drinks, often too much.” [9]

    One of Li Bo’s most famous poems is entitled “Waking from Drunkenness on a Spring Day” and it goes something like this:

    Life in the world is but a big dream;
    I will not spoil it by any labour or care.
    So saying, I was drunk all the day,
    lying helpless at the porch in front of my door.

    When I awoke, I blinked at the garden-lawn;
    a lonely bird was singing amid the flowers.
    I asked myself, had the day been wet or fine?
    The Spring wind was telling the mango-bird.

    Moved by its song I soon began to sigh,
    and, as wine was there, I filled my own cup.
    Wildly singing I waited for the moon to rise;
    when my song was over, all my senses had gone.


    Perhaps suiting a man who sought the meaning of life in a wine cup, Li Bo drowned drunk face-down in a river trying to embrace the moon’s reflection. He wrote a nice little poem that in hindsight almost seems to foreshadow his end:

    Among the flowers, a winepot.
    I pour alone, friendless.
    So, raising my cup, I turn to the moon
    And face my shadow, making us three.


    The moon is looming bright tonight illuminating our friendly traders huddled around a small fire for warmth, although the wine helps too. The light of the moon is almost bright enough to read by, but an oil lamp helps me as I fish out some literature that I picked up in the last episode back out west near Dunhuang, an important Buddhist pilgrimage site and crossroads of the Silk Road.

    Ah, here it is. Yes, I think our friends will get a chuckle out of this. This is an edition of sample letters published by the Dunhuang Bureau of Etiquette. The ink is practically still wet on our copy, dated to the eleventh day of the ninth month of the tenth year of Dazhong, which to you and mean is called October 13, 856 AD. These sample letters of etiquette include such hits as: “Communications of a Complimentary Nature between Fellow Officials,” and “Letters of Greetings on Various Occasions,” and our favorite, “A Letter of Apology for Getting Drunk,” and it goes like this: “Yesterday, having drunk too much, I was so intoxicated as to pass all bounds; but none of the rude and coarse language used was uttered in a conscious state. The next morning, after hearing others speak on the subject, I realized what had happened, whereupon was overwhelmed with confusion and ready to sink into the earth with shame. It was due to a vessel of small capacity being filled for the nonce too full. I humbly trust that you in your wise benevolence will not condemn me for my transgression. Soon I will come to apologize in person, but meanwhile beg to send this written communication for your kind inspection. Leaving much unsaid, I am yours respectfully.”

    Well, after those ingratiating words, how could you not forgive your crazy uncle for breaking the lampshade?

    Oh, and here’s a kicker I found on a separate scrap. The great beverages Wine and Tea hold a debate to determine which is the noblest. Tea begins:

    “Chief of the hundred plants, Flower of the myriad trees, Esteemed for its buds that are picked, Prized for its shoots that are culled, lauded as a famous shrub – Its name is called Tea! Brought as tribute to the land of the princes, Introduced into the home of the monarchs, Once presented as a novelty, its fame has spread over the wide world.”

    Hmm … pretty convincing, but I don’t know. What do you think?

    Okay, let’s let Wine have a go:

    “Give men wine with their meat, and never shall they have an evil thought. Where wine is, there will also be benevolence and righteousness, propriety and wisdom, clearly it deserves the highest honor, for what other beverage can compare with it?”

    My friends, I think we have a win… Wait! What’s this? We have a late entry. It’s Water and Water tells us that the debate is futile and meaningless, because both Tea and Wine and all the myriad of other beverages fundamentally rely on Water to exist.

    So, there we have. We know all we need to know about wine in China’s Tang dynasty. Well, not quite, but this caravan is calling it a night.

    Thanks for listening. I’ll see you next time.



    [1] Poo, Mu-Chou. “The Use and Abuse of Wine in Ancient China,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, Vol. 42, No. 2 (1999), 123. <>

    [2] Schafer, Edward H. The Golden Peaches of Samarkand: A Study of T’ang Exotics. University of California Press: Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1963, 143.

    [3] McGovern, Patrick E. Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages, 2009, 108.

    [4] See Schafer 142, McGovern 108, and Whitfield, Susan and Ursula Sims-Williams (ed). The Silk Road: Trade, Travel, War and Faith, exhibition at the British Library, 2004, 236-8.

    [5] Schafer 142.

    [6] Schafer 143.

    [7] Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. The Art of Wine in East Asia, exhibition at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Nov. 5, 1985-Jan. 21, 1986.

    [8] Poo 141-2.

    [9] Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. The Art of Wine in East Asia.

    [10] Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. The Art of Wine in East Asia. & wikipedia

    [11] McGovern 58 and Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. The Art of Wine in East Asia.

    [12] Whitfield 236-8.

    [13] ibid.

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    Tinted Venus by John Gibson, 1862
    Tinted Venus by John Gibson, 1862, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

    Many sculptural works from the ancient world were once beautifully colored. This is an excerpt of my gallery talk “Coloring the Past” in the Art Institute of Chicago from March 9, 2017. Here we discuss the original polychromy of the famous Aphrodite of Knidos by Praxiteles and the 1862 Tinted Venus by English sculptor John Gibson.

    This recording comes complete with all the juicy, unscripted, live-action museum gallery accents of noisy kids, beeping proximity alarms, and echoing reverb. Please forgive the poor sound quality.

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    Trompe-l'Oeil Still Life with a Flower Garland and a Curtain
    Adriaen van der Spelt and Frans van Mieris, Trompe-l’Oeil Still Life with a Flower Garland and a Curtain, 1658, Art Institute of Chicago (1949.585)

    Pliny the Elder shares with us the tale of dueling artists Zeuxis and Parrhasius as they battled for the title of who could paint a more beguilingly realistic trompe-l’oeil (“fools the eye”) masterpiece. We also hear another short story of Zeuxis’s dashed pride.

    This recording comes complete with all the juicy, unscripted, live-action museum gallery accents of noisy kids, beeping proximity alarms, and echoing reverb. Please forgive the poor sound quality.

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    Etruscan Relief Showing the Battle Between Gods and Giants
    Battle Between Gods and Giants, Etruscan, Art Institute of Chicago

    We examine the use of color in ancient art to designate role, status, nature, and more, and discuss causes for the disappearance of polychromy in ancient art.

    Side note: Why does the Egyptian God Osiris sometimes appear with black skin and sometimes with green skin?

    Names dropped: Zeus, Athena, Olympians, Giants, Gaia, Osiris

    This recording comes complete with all the juicy, unscripted, live-action museum gallery accents of noisy kids, beeping proximity alarms, and echoing reverb. Please forgive the poor sound quality.

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    Armored Guardian King (Tianwang) Trampling Demon, China, Tang dynasty (AD 618–907), First half of 8th century, Earthenware, glaze, and pigment Art Institute of Chicago, 1970.1069
    Armored Guardian King (Tianwang) Trampling Demon, China, Tang dynasty (AD 618–907), Art Institute of Chicago

    Why are the heads, crowns, and hands of magnificent Tang Dynasty Chinese tomb figurines so startlingly bare compared to their brilliantly colored bodies? This is an excerpt from my gallery talk “Coloring the Past” in the Art Institute of Chicago from March 9, 2017. This recording comes complete with all the juicy, unscripted, live-action museum gallery accents of background chatter, beeping proximity alarms, and echoing reverb. Please forgive the poor sound quality.

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    Side-by-side comparison of ancient Greek black figure and red figure painted vases, Art Institute of Chicago
    Athenian Black-figure Belly-Amphora (Storage Jar) Showing Herakles Wrestling the Nemean Lion, c. 550-540 B.C., Art Institute of Chicago (1978.114); Athenian Hydria (Water Jar), c. 470/460 B.C., Art Institute of Chicago (1911.456)

    In this excerpt from one of my museum tours, I discuss the techniques of Greek vase painting and the differences between the black-figure and red-figure styles. We also dip a toe into some Greek history, talk about the names of Greek vase painters, artists signing their works, and compare Greek vase painters to the French Impressionists. This recording comes complete with all the juicy, unscripted, live-action museum gallery accents including background chatter, construction noises, and beeping proximity alarms. Note, the black-figure base pictured is different from the one I discuss during the tour. The red-figure vase is the same.

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    Mask (Mukenga), Kuba, Western Kasai region, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Art Institute of Chicago, 1982.1504
    Mask (Mukenga), Kuba, Western Kasai region, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Art Institute of Chicago

    How do artists’ choices of materials assign identity and meaning to works of art? How does meaning assign material? In this excerpt from one of my museum tours, I explore the meaningful materials in an African Congolese ceremonial mask of the Kuba Kingdom. This recording comes complete with all the juicy, unscripted, live-action museum gallery accents including background chatter and beeping proximity alarms.

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    Power Figure (Nkisi Nkondi), Vili, Republic of the Congo or Democratic Republic of the Congo, Art Institute of Chicago, 1998.502
    Power Figure (Nkisi Nkondi), Vili, Republic of the Congo or Democratic Republic of the Congo, Art Institute of Chicago, 1998.502

    How do artists’ choices of materials assign identity and meaning to works of art? How does meaning assign material? In this excerpt from one of my museum tours, I explore the meaningful materials in a Nkisi Nkondi Power Figure of the Vili people in central Africa. This recording comes complete with all the juicy, unscripted, live-action museum gallery accents including background chatter and beeping proximity alarms.

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    Ritual Object (Boli), Bamana, Mali, Mid-19th/early 20th century, Art Institute of Chicago, 1961.1177
    Ritual Object (Boli), Bamana, Mali, Mid-19th/early 20th century, Art Institute of Chicago, 1961.1177
    How do artists’ choices of materials assign identity and meaning to works of art? How does meaning assign material? In this excerpt from one of my museum tours, I explore the meaningful materials in a Boli Ritual Object of the Bamana people in Mali, Africa. This recording comes complete with all the juicy, unscripted, live-action museum gallery accents including background chatter and beeping proximity alarms.

    Permanent collection label:
    Bamana sculpture often functions as a mediating force between the spirit and human realms. Ritual objects, such as this amorphously shaped boli, are commissioned and cared for by age-grade associations. A boli has a wood core wrapped with cotton cloth, into which spiritually charged packets are bound. Sacrificial materials, including animal blood and grains, are applied to its surface, giving it a crusty exterior. These sacrifices symbolize the layering of secret knowledge, imbuing the boli with nyama (life force). A boli is stored with other sacred objects in a shrine house and may only be seen by members of the association to which it belongs.

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    Two Peruvian ritual vessels, Art Institute of Chicago
    Two Peruvian ritual vessels, Art Institute of Chicago

    How do artists’ choices of materials assign identity and meaning to works of art? How does meaning assign material? In this excerpt from one of my museum tours, I explore the meaningful material of gold in Incan art and culture. We also discuss the traditional Andean corn beer called “chicha.”

    Features Works of Art:

    Inca, Ica Valley, south coast, Peru
    Late 15th/early 16th century
    16.5 x 6.4 cm (6 1/2 x 2 1/2 in.)
    Art Institute of Chicago, Kate S. Buckingham Endowment, 1955.2587

    Pair of Beakers Depicting Birds in a Cornfield
    Inca, Ica Valley, south coast, Peru
    A.D. 1100/1438
    Each 7 x 7.3 cm (2 3/4 x 2 7/8 in.)
    Art Institute of Chicago, Kate S. Buckingham Endowment, 1955.2589 a-b

    Ceremonial Vessel (Aryballos)
    Inca, Probably vicinity of Cuzco, Peru
    Ceramic and pigment
    78 x 49 cm (30 3/4 x 19 1/4 in.) (max.)
    Art Institute of Chicago, Kate S. Buckingham Endowment, 1955.2214

    Ritual Vessel Representing a Woman Carrying a Vessel (Aryballos) and Nursing a Child
    Chimú-Inca, Lambayeque Valley, north coast, Peru
    A.D. 1200/1450
    Ceramic and pigment
    23.9 x 18.4 cm (9 3/8 x 7 1/4 in.)
    Art Institute of Chicago, Kate S. Buckingham Endowment, 1955.2411

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    Two Chinese Jade Dragon Pendants, c. 4th/3rd century B.C., Art Institute of Chicago

    How do artists’ choices of materials assign identity and meaning to works of art? How does meaning assign material? In this excerpt from one of my museum tours, I explore the meaningful material of Chinese jade — its symbolic and medicinal value, function, materiality, artistry, and poetic inspiration.

    Features Works of Art:

    Dragon Pendants
    China, Eastern Zhou dynasty
    Warring States period (c.480-221 BC)
    c. 4th/3rd century B.C.
    9.2 x 16.8 x 0.7 cm (3 3/5 x 6 3/5 x 3/10 in.)
    8.6 x 16.5 x 0.6 cm. (6-1/2 x 3-3/8 x 1/4 in.)
    Art Institute of Chicago, 1950.640
    Art Institute of Chicago, 1950.641

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    Tibetan Painted Banner of the Medicine Buddha
    Tibetan Painted Banner (Thangka) with the Medicine Buddha (Bhaishajyaguru), 14th century, Art Institute of Chicago

    How do artists’ choices of materials assign identity and meaning to works of art? How does meaning assign material? In this excerpt from one of my museum tours, I explore the meaningful material of the semi-precious blue stone lapis lazuli in a Tibetan painted banner (thangka) of the Buddha of medicine and healing, Bhaishajyaguru.

    Features Works of Art:

    Painted Banner (Thangka) with the Medicine Buddha (Bhaishajyaguru)
    Central Tibet, 14th century
    Pigment and gold on cotton
    104 x 82.7 cm (41 x 32 1/2 in.)
    Art Institute of Chicago, 1996.29

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  • 08/16/17--18:28: Dragons and Tigers (83)
  • Dragon and Tiger by Kishi Ganku, 1835
    Dragon and Tiger by Kishi Ganku, 1835
    Dragon by Morita Shiryu
    Dragon by Morita Shiryu, Art Institute of Chicago

    In this excerpt from one of my museum tours, we walk through two starkly contrasting Japanese folding screens celebrating the time-honored, iconic subjects of dragons and tigers with exceptional energy and dynamism.

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  • 09/15/17--14:55: The Birth of Dionysus (84)
  • Hermes and the Infant Dionysus, Archaeological Museum of Olympia
    Hermes and the Infant Dionysus, Archaeological Museum of Olympia

    This is episode 84 of Ancient Worlds: The Birth of Dionysus. I’m the olive in your antiqui-tini, Lucas Livingston. Ancient Worlds is the mostly audio series of the Ancient Art Podcast. If you’re listening to the audio episode, you can see the picture gallery at In each episode of Ancient Worlds I choose a single work of art to serve as a springboard for a discussion about the ancient world. Here we unpack the stories, history, myths, and culture from antiquity through a modern lens and with tongue firmly planted in cheek and a healthy dose of snark. So if you offend lightly, you might consider changing the channel. We may also encounter some full frontal ancient Greek male nudity both in stone and in words. I know many educators and parents take advantage of my podcast in their lessons. Some people find the conversation about nudity in art to be awkward with kids, but my best advice as an art museum educator is not to avoid the discussion. That’s about as damaging as misinformation. There are a number of helpful professional resources out there to help tackle that subject. One great starting point is Body Language: How to Talk to Students about Nudity in Art produced by the Art Institute of Chicago. You can download the 12-page PDF for free. You’ll find the link at [1]

    Our artwork de jour is a statue of the Greek god Hermes holding the infant Dionysus. Hold on a sec. We’re calling this episode the “Birth of Dionysus.” So why, Lucas, didn’t you pick an image of the birth of Dionysus, because they’re out there? Yeah, I could have, but why follow a logical sequitur when the alternative is to not? And because when I think about this famous statue of Hermes holding the little baby god of wine, ecstasy, theater, and madness, it reminds me of the story of Dionysus’s birth.

    Semele was on top of the world. She was a beautiful princess, daughter of King Cadmus of Thebes and the goddess Harmonia, so she had it pretty good. And on top of this, she was dating Zeus. Yes, the Zeus. What Semele didn’t know, though, was that the amorous eye of Zeus came with a catch. Zeus was married … and not to a delicate flower. Zeus’s wife was the goddess Hera and she never took kindly to the *many* mistresses of Zeus. Sometimes I imagine Zeus was the archetype object of every misogynistic ancient Greek husband’s divine bromance. The Olympian gods were generally horrible people, and I don’t mind saying that, because they’re all dead. Apologies to all my pagan friends.

    Oh, side note, even though Semele’s mother was a goddess, apparently Semele didn’t inherit the divine gene, because she was mortal. I’m just saying. Surely that fact won’t come up again in our story.

    So, Zeus and Hera. Despite all of Zeus’s dalliances with other goddesses, women, girls, and boys, she never sat down with him to have “the talk.” Instead, Hera would always exact her great vengeance and furious anger upon his lovers and their offspring. Different accounts by many authors have come down to us describing the details of what happened with Semele. The Roman Augustan-era poet Ovid makes the point of reminding us that Semele was related to Europa — specifically the niece of Europa — who also had an affair with Zeus, and Hera had vowed to make life hell for all of Europa’s kindred.

    She hatched a plan to trick Semele into becoming “besties” and then sow the seeds of doubt about her relationship with Zeus. Ovid writes:

    She rose up quickly from her shining throne,
    and hidden in a cloud of fiery hue
    descended to the home of Semele;
    and while encompassed by the cloud, transformed
    her whole appearance as to counterfeit
    old Beroe, an Epidaurian nurse,
    who tended Semele.
    Her tresses changed
    to grey, her smooth skin wrinkled and her step
    grown feeble as she moved with trembling limbs;—
    her voice was quavering as an ancient dame’s,
    as Juno, thus disguised, began to talk
    to Semele. [2]

    In the guise of Beroe, Semele’s trusted nurse, Hera strikes up some small talk. “So, deary, are you seeing anyone special?”

    “Oh! Well, yes, as a matter of fact, I am, and … uh … well, this is a little embarrassing, but actually I’m going steady with Zeus.”

    “Really, now? Steady, you say? Well, that’s quite an honor.”

    “I know, right? Yeah, he says he’s over Hera and that I’m totally the love of his life.”

    Hera closed her eyes for a moment to compress the boiling rage within. “Well, ain’t that something? But tell me,” she said, “how do you know he is who he says he is? How do you know he’s Zeus?”

    “Oh, well, um … I guess I just believe him. He’s very genuine and honest.”

    “Is that so? If he is who is says he is, then he ought to show his true love for you, don’t you think? He ought to come to you in the manner in which he would comes to his divine wife, Hera, as a real man would, ‘so you may know what pleasure it is to sleep with a god.'” [3]

    Semele stared through her companion off into the distance, thinking. Hera knew that her words had affected the young woman.

    “Maybe I just will,” she said, “and I’ll prove it to you.” Though she really meant to prove it to herself. After all, if her new man were the almighty Zeus, why wouldn’t she be deserving of the same level of affection that he had given others before.

    Let me quote a nice stanza from Ovid here:

    With artful words as these the goddess worked
    upon the trusting mind of Semele,
    daughter of Cadmus, till she begged of Jove
    a boon, that only hastened her sad death. [2]

    “Zeus, do you love me?”

    “Why sure, my dear, absolutely. You’re just the bee’s knees.”

    “Then will you promise me something?”

    “Absolutely, Semele, anything your heart desires?”

    “Then, come to me, Zeus, in all the splendor of your glory as you would come to Hera in intimate embrace.”

    “Oh, jeez, Semele, anything but that!”

    “Now Zeus, you promised me anything!”

    “Yes, but Semele…”

    “Zeus, you said you love me!”

    The god of thunder and lightning was trapped. His word was his bond. He could do nothing. In bittersweet grief, Zeus ascended aloft to dark skies already swirling with thunderous clouds. He called forth a majestic maelstrom with brilliantly destructive lightning and devastating gale winds. Worlds quaked from deep Hades to lofty Olympus. Yet even so, he restrained himself and did not call upon the devastating bolts that felled the hundred-handed monster Typhon or that embraced his divine bride Hera. Zeus released a lesser lightning of milder heat, but this was all too great for mortal Semele. In pangs of agony, she burnt to ash before his sad, mournful gaze. But there curled within the cinders that were once her shapely form, the fetal infant Dionysus lay, torn prematurely from his mother’s womb, from Semele’s womb.

    Few authors go into the narrative beyond the bare bones facts of the matter. Semele asked, she received, she died, and there was Dionysus. Did Zeus know Semele was pregnant? Not necessarily, although the 2nd century Greek mythographer Pseudo-Apollodorus comments in his Bibliotheca that Semele was six months pregnant. So either Pseudo-Apollodorus didn’t really know much what six months pregnant looks like or he figured Semele wasn’t hiding this from anyone. [4]

    Zeus carefully plucked his premature son from the smoldering fire of his mother and hastened to hide him from his jealous wife. By all accounts, to see that his child would be properly carried to term, Zeus stitches up Dionysus into his thigh. One of Dionysus’s many epithets, though, is Enorches, which some scholars interpret as a reference to male private parts. So it’s possible that somewhere, sometime, somehow the legend transformed from Zeus’s privates to Zeus’s thigh. Scholars certainly enjoy a field day with discussions around the idea of the pregnant male in ancient myths. And this wasn’t even Zeus’s first pregnancy. Remember Athena?

    So, Zeus carried the fetal god Dionysus to term in his … let’s stick with thigh … until Dionysus was born a second time. Hence, another one of Dionysus’s epithets is Dimētōr, meaning “born of two mothers” — born once of Semele and then again of Zeus. Hyginus calls him that in the Fabulae. [3] While in the Metamorphoses, Ovid also calls Dionysus the “twice-born god,” which is a nickname you might hear a little more often, probably because it translates well. [5]

    After the second birth of Dionysus, Zeus was still wary of Hera’s wrath and wasn’t quite ready to parade his new son around Olympus. Diodorus Siculus lets us know that Zeus handed the infant over to Hermes and ordered the messenger god to take him to a cave on Mount Nysa, which lay between Phoenicia and the Nile. [6] There he would find the nymphs of the mountain, who will nurse and raise the infant god. [7] And this brings us to our sculpture de jour, Hermes Carrying the Infant Dionysus, a second century Roman-era marble copy of an alleged 4th century BC sculpture by the noted Hellenistic sculptor Praxiteles. We are already experts on Praxiteles. We met him back in episode 26 looking at another one of his famous sculptures, the Aphrodite of Knidos. Unlike the Aphrodite, our Hermes Carrying Dionysus seems perhaps not to have been too terribly celebrated in antiquity. We have only a passing reference to it in Pausanias’s Description of Greece from the 2nd century of the Common Era, and he says:

    … other images were dedicated in the Heraion, including a marble Hermes carrying the baby Dionysus, a work of Praxiteles… [8]

    It’s much more celebrated today than in antiquity, because of a debate that raged in the 1930’s as to whether this marble sculpture that we have today is a Roman era copy or the original by Praxiteles. For the bibliography to that debate, check out the footnotes to this episode at [9] Opinion today seems to lean toward it being a Roman homage to the original, but we’re not going to get into that discussion here. The tall, lean, muscular Hermes stands casually in the Classical contrapposto with his weight shifted to his right leg, his left knee bent, and his hips tilted at a sharp angle. Contrapposto is an Italian term describing this prevalent Classical and Renaissance-era bend of the human figure. His torso tilts to the right, realigning his center of gravity, as his head turns down and to the left at the infant Dionysus perched daintily on Hermes’s left arm.

    There’s an affectionate gaze between the gods. The infant Dionysos leans forward slightly. His arms are missing, but his right hand delicately rests on Hermes’s shoulder. From what remains at the break on his left shoulder, we can tell that he was reaching forward toward Hermes. Hermes, in contrast, reaches his right arm high. It’s broken just above the elbow, but it’s clear that he’s reaching away from the infant. What’s going on here? These aren’t relaxed poses. We’re definitely seeing them in the middle of some intentional action, but what could that be? Pausanias’s comment doesn’t help us at all, so we’re forced to look elsewhere.

    There are other sculptures that are stylistically similar to our Hermes here, like the Hermes Ludovisi. Rhys Carpenter gives us a quick rundown of those works with images in his 1954 article “Two Postscripts to the Hermes Controversy.” [9] These sculpted figures gesture somewhat similarly to Hermes, but they tend not to be doing much with the outstretched arm. Well, not doing much other than shepherding the souls of the dead to the underworld. But in our Hermes and Dionysus we have two figures, so we need to read them together. Baby Dionysus leans and reaches forward, bracing himself on Hermes’s shoulder for support. It’s as if Dionysus wants whatever Hermes has. What if Hermes is pulling away, trying to keep something from Dionysus? It’s almost like he’s teasing him.

    Well, my money’s on Hermes playing a game of “got your nose” and Dionysus wants it back, but various authorities have postulated an alternative reconstruction. Similar to an ancient wall painting from the ashen ruins of Pompeii, Hermes likely once held a bunch of grapes. [10] Dionysus, god of wine, infant though he may be, is instinctually drawn to the grapes. This playful pairing of youthful gods in a casual context removed from the elevated grandeur of divinity fits right in with the humanistic ethos of 4th century late Classical Greece. We met a similarly humanizing rendering of a god with the Apollo Sauroktonos back in episode 48, also by Praxiteles. Gone are the moralistic black and white days of the glorious victory of Periclean Athens over the barbaric Persian forces. The 4th century Greek world is one of warring states and backstabbing governments vying for supremacy in the wake of the Persian and Peloponnesian wars. In a world of conflict, corruption, and depravity, the authority of divinity is reduced as the gods sit on their thrones and watch the mortal game play out … and the winning goal will be scored by a young MVP named Alexander.

    Thanks for tuning in to Ancient Worlds. Check out for references, footnotes, and a gallery of images for this episode. If you have anything to add to the conversation, you can add a comments there or on YouTube. You can get in touch with me directly at or on the web at If you enjoy the podcast, please consider sharing some fiscal love. Whether it’s the cost of a cup of coffee or more, your donations help keep this ship afloat on our odyssey sailing the wine-dark seas. Just click the donate button at And if you can’t donate a drachma, you can help the podcast by adding an iTunes review. Maybe it’ll even get you on the air, like LittleBrownMouse, who wrote: “Clearly, an exceptional amount of time and effort goes into these podcasts. Well scripted, but doesn’t sound like someone reading you a lecture. Truly excellent presentation, great images, and enjoyable even to someone who knows nothing at all about ancient art. Take the time to have a listen.”

    And I thank you for listening. See you next time.


    [1] Art Institute of Chicago. Body Language: How to Talk to Students about Nudity in Art.

    [2] Ovid. Metamorphoses III.251ff. Brookes More. Boston. Cornhill Publishing Co. 1922.

    [3] Hyginus. Fabulae 167.

    [4] Pseudo-Apollodorus. Bibliotheca 3.26-29.

    [5] Ovid. Metamorphoses III.304.

    [6] Homeric Hymn 1 to Dionysus.

    [7] Diodorus Siculus. Library of History 4.2.3.
    Pseudo-Apollodorus. Bibliotheca 3.26-29.

    [8] Pausanias. Description of Greece 5.17.3.

    [9] Carpenter, Rhys. “Who Carved the Hermes of Praxiteles?” American Journal of Archaeology, vol. 35, no. 3, 1931, pp. 249–261.

    Casson, Stanley. “The Hermes of Praxiteles.” American Journal of Archaeology, vol. 35, no. 3, 1931, pp. 262–268.

    Gisela M. A. Richter. “The Hermes of Praxiteles.” American Journal of Archaeology, vol. 35, no. 3, 1931, pp. 277–290.

    Carpenter, Rhys. “Two Postscripts to the Hermes Controversy.” American Journal of Archaeology, vol. 58, no. 1, 1954, pp. 1–12.

    [10] See Carpenter 1954, fig. 5. Also House of Zephyr and Flora. Also Pompeii in Pictures. VI.10.11 Pompeii. Casa del Naviglio o di zefiro e flora.


    Colocate by Podington Bear

    Nova by Go Ask Alice from the album Perfection is Terrible

    The Shout by Go Ask Alice from the album Perfection is Terrible

    Lightfeet by Podington Bear

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    Jar (pelike) with Odysseus and Elpenor in the Underworld, MFA Boston
    Jar (pelike) with Odysseus and Elpenor in the Underworld, MFA Boston

    A very brief excerpt from my lecture “Things That Go Bump: A Visual Survey of Witches, Demons, and Ghosts!” Odysseus Journeys to the Underworld and holds a seance with the souls of Hades through necromantic blood magic so the countless shades of the dead and the gone would surge around him.

    Featured Work of Art:

    Jar (pelike) with Odysseus and Elpenor in the Underworld
    Greece, Athens, Classical, about 440 BC
    The Lykaon Painter
    Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (34.79)

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    Happy Halloween! In this very brief excerpt from my lecture “Things That Go Bump: A Visual Survey of Witches, Demons, and Ghosts,” we introduce Goya’s 1797/99 published volume The Caprices (Los Caprichos). This tome of nightmares, witches, and devils satirizes human vice and intolerance of late 18th century Spanish society through the demons born of religion and power. We conclude with a brief glimpse at our modern icon of the Wicked Witch through the lens of art history and tradition. For greater depth, background, and context, watch episode 59, A Witches’ Sabbath.

    For images of the featured works of art, visit

    Featured Work of Art:

    Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (Spanish, 1746-1828)
    “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters,” plate 43
    “When Day Breaks We Will Be Off,” plate 71
    “Pretty Teacher!” Plate 68
    From Los Caprichos, 1797/99
    (Museo Nacional del Prado)

    Wicked Witch of the West, 1900
    Wicked Witch of the West, 1900

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    This is a short excerpt from my lecture “Things That Go Bump: A Visual Survey of Witches, Demons, and Ghosts.” Herein we explore the ancient Greek tradition of witchcraft and metamorphosis in two images — one ancient and one modern — of Circe, the definitive witch of Grecian lore and seductive sorceress of Odyssean fame. Waterhouse masterfully betrays her jealous cruelty in those cold, dark, uncaring eyes. Vying for the affection of a handsome lover, the hateful witch Circe poisons the placid pool where the her rival Scylla bathed. Circe’s potion of polymorphism transforms the beautiful nymph Scylla to the proverbial “hard place,” the loathsome multi-mawed many-tentacled monster, who’d dash the hopes (…and heads) of Odysseus’s men sailing “between Scylla and Charybdis.” And in the Grecian cup in the MFA, we see a magical elixir similarly perched in wicked Circe’s hands while Odysseus’s men are in the midst of metamorphosis from her arcane magicks.

    Featured Works of Art:

    John William Waterhouse, Circe Invidiosa (Jealous Circe), 1892
    John William Waterhouse, Circe Invidiosa (Jealous Circe), 1892

    John William Waterhouse
    Circe Invidiosa (Jealous Circe), 1892
    South Australian Government Grant 1892
    Art Gallery of South Australia

    Drinking cup (kylix) depicting scenes from the Odyssey
    Greek, Archaic Period, about 560-550 BC
    The Painter of the Boston Polyphemos
    © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (99.518)

    Drinking cup depicting scenes from the Odyssey
    Drinking cup (kylix) depicting scenes from the Odyssey
    Greek, Archaic Period, about 560-550 BC
    The Painter of the Boston Polyphemos
    © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (99.518)

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  • 11/23/17--15:18: Ancient Egyptian Cornucopia
  • Silver dekadrachm of Ptolemy II, 285-246 BC, head of Arsinoe R / double cornucopia

    As citizens, immigrants, and perhaps some First Nation people sit down across the country, give thanks over an overflowing centerpiece of abundance, and celebrate Thanksgiving for the harvest, we pause to consider one of the earliest attested parallels to our concept of the cornucopia from Ancient Egypt.

    Placed upon the feast table in this Middle Kingdom wall fragment from the tomb of Amenemhet now in the Art Institute of Chicago, we see a tidy row of what appears to be sliced bread (yes, the Ancient Egyptians invented sliced bread) amidst a plethora of food and drink: ox leg, leeks, beer, wine, fowl…

    Notice, though, that the slices of bread taper at the tops to nifty little points and the bottoms are curved to taper similarly to single points engaging with the offering table. Unless we can also credit the Egyptians for inventing Italian panettone, I’m not sure that’s entirely expected of sliced bread.

    What we have here is the beautiful interplay of word and image. A hybrid of Egyptian hieroglyphs and pictorial art. Sitting upon the table is not a representation of sliced bread, but Egyptian hieroglyphs depicting flowering reeds. Phonetically it approximates our letter “i” or “j,” but in the context here at functions as an ideogram instead of a phonogram…that is, as an idea instead of a sound. The idea of the flowering reed is a veritable cornucopia of all the fruit of the fields placed upon the offering table of Amenemhet. It’s symbolic value will stand in place of the literal, physical food offerings placed at the tomb by Amenemhet’s descendants and contracted priests, nourishing the deceased in perpetuity forever after.

    … The Ancient Egyptian cornucopia.

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  • 12/21/17--19:43: Tibetan Mandalas (88)
  • Sand Mandala of World Peace by monks from the Drepung Gomang Monastery
    Drepung Gomang Monastery, Mandala of World Peace, Miller Beach, Indiana, September 21, 2014. Photo by Lucas Livingston.

    Drepung Gomang Monastery
    Mandala of World Peace
    September 21, 2014
    Miller Beach, Indiana
    Photo by Lucas Livingston,

    Architectural model of the Kalachakra mandala
    Arjia Rinpoche, Architectural Model of the Kalachakra Mandala.
    Tibetan Mandala
    Tibetan Mandala, James W. and Marilynn Alsdorf Collection in the Art Institute of Chicago (151.1996)

    18th/19th century
    Opaque watercolor and gold on cotton and wood
    35.2 x 35.2 x 5.4 cm
    The James W. and Marilynn Alsdorf Collection (151.1996)
    From Pal, Pratapaditya, A Collecting Odyssey, 1997, fig. 210.

    Tibetan Mandala
    Tibetan Mandala, James W. and Marilynn Alsdorf Collection in the Art Institute of Chicago (150.1996)

    18th/19th century
    Opaque watercolor and gold on wood
    26.7 x 26.7 x 12.8 cm (10 1/2 x 10 1/2 x 5 in)
    The James W. and Marilynn Alsdorf Collection (150.1996)

    Gallery label: Mandala, literally meaning “circle,” is a diagram of the spiritual universe that is used as a meditational device. The circle encloses a sacred area, into which the devotee enters via meditation. The only figures shown in this abstract mandala are the demons who inhabit the charnel ground within the circle of flames. The central hexagon is a yantra (a meditation device) that symbolizes the combination of masculine and feminine aspects, shown as two overlapping triangles. Their union induces cosmic harmony. A circle connects the points of the hexagon, symbolizing the unification of the souls of everything living and divine.

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  • 01/14/18--11:01: Adventures of Ulysses (89)
  • The Adventures of Ulysses by Apollonio di Giovanni
    Apollonio di Giovanni
    Italian, 1415/17-1465
    The Adventures of Ulysses, 1435/45
    42 x 131.7 cm (16 3/4 x 51 7/8 in.)
    Art Institute of Chicago, 1933.1006

    In this excerpt from a recent tour, I explore some of the highlights from Homer’s Odyssey in a 15th century Florentine painting and learn a little about Italian Renaissance marriage and fidelity. Names and terms dropped: Homer, Odysseus, Penelope, Nausica, cyclops, Polyphemus, the Sirens, Hermes, moly, Circe, Calypso, Argos, Apollonio di Giovanni, James Joyce, Trojan War, Tuscan, gilding; important terms not dropped: cassone.

    Featured Work of Art:

    Apollonio di Giovanni
    Italian, 1415/17-1465
    The Adventures of Ulysses, 1435/45
    42 x 131.7 cm (16 3/4 x 51 7/8 in.)
    Art Institute of Chicago, 1933.1006

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    Welcome back to the Ancient Art Podcast. I’m your host, Lucas Livingston. Back in episode 26 we had a close look at the Aphrodite of Knidos, a particularly famous 4th century BC statue by one of the most renowned sculptors of the late-Classical Greek world, Praxiteles. In this episode, number 48, we’re going look at another famous work by Praxiteles, the Apollo Sauroktonos, a.k.a. the Lizard Slayer.

    As with the Aphrodite and so many other documented works of art from antiquity, the original Apollo Sauroktonos by Praxiteles doesn’t actually survive. Or does it!? When the Cleveland Museum of Art announced its acquisition of a life-sized bronze Apollo Sauroktonos in 2004, it stirred up a lot of debate as to whether or not this could actually be the original work by Praxiteles from about 350 BC. [1] Could be. Could be a later copy … replica … homage … whatever your preference. On account of the original’s particular fame, though, what we have for certainty are a few mostly Roman replicas. This includes a marble sculpture in the Vatican and a bronze figurine in the Villa Albani in Rome. Another particularly well-known Roman copy is in the Louvre Museum … um, Paris, France, if you didn’t know. It probably dates to the 2nd century of the Common Era. It’s a life-sized marble measuring about one and a half meters high or about 4′ 11″.

    Here we see a nude image of the god Apollo represented as a fit teenage boy leaning against a tree trunk with a lizard scaling up its side. Apollo is standing upright with his weight shifted to his right leg. His left knee is bent with his left foot perched slightly behind the other. His right arm is stretched out before him, while the left arm is held high braced against the tree. His head tilts downward and to his left, his gaze firmly entranced by the lizard. His youthful wild hair is contained (seemingly with some difficulty) by a band around his head, perhaps suggesting the laurel wreath Apollo is accustomed to wear. The dynamic twist of his mass tilts the horizontal axes of his waist and shoulders, forming the classic contraposto. The overall graceful composition of his form further exaggerates the contraposto, creating a sinuous S-curve in the vertical axis. [2]

    Thanks to ancient authors, we don’t have to guess as to what’s going on here. In Book 34 of his Natural History published around AD 77-79, Pliny the Elder tells us that “Although Praxiteles was more successful, and therefore more famous for his marble sculptures … he made the youthful Apollo, known as the ‘Sauroctonos,’ because he is lying in ambush with an arrow for a lizard crawling towards him.” [3] An arrow likely made out of bronze is customarily said to have once resided in Apollo’s proper right hand pointing dangerously toward the lizard. In his left hand up above, many scholars like to imagine a slender bronze wire dangling its way down to form a leash cinched around the poor lizard’s neck. [4] Much like bronze sculpture itself, those bronze fixtures from antiquity are pretty scarce, as someone down the line invariably thought it would be a bright idea to scavenge and repurpose the bronze for weaponry or what not.

    The humorous albeit a little sadistic subject to this sculpture is conventionally thought to be a tongue-in-cheek reference to the mythological battle over the sanctuary of Delphi between Apollo and the giant snake-like dragon Python. [5] Variously described as a gigantic serpent or monstrous dragon, the fabulous beast Python was said to be the guardian of the oracle at the sanctuary of the earth goddess Gaia at the location of what was later to be known as Delphi. Our good friend, the Augustan-age writer, Ovid informs us in his Metamorphoses that Gaia bore the giant serpentine dragon, who kept its lair on the face of Mount Parnassus. When Apollo engaged Python in battle, it took volleys of arrows by the thousands from his glittering bow to bring down the monster, who laid dying with its poisonous blood pouring from black wounds. In memory of this, the famous artistic and athletic contests, the Pythian games, were said to have been founded by Apollo. [6] We have to insert a footnote here. Ovid credits the foundation of the Pythian games with the defeat of Python, but if you remember back to episode 19 on the ancient Olympics, other authors say the games were founded in memory of the nymph Daphne. Ovid reserves the Daphne legend, however, for why Apollo started using a crown of laurel instead of a crown of oak. Now back to the program. With the overthrow of Python, the oracle transferred from Gaia to Apollo and the name of the site changed from Pytho to Delphi, which has something to do with dolphins, but that’s not relevant here.

    Some modern scholars are fond of interpreting this mythological transfer of power as a tell-tale signature of the conquest of the invading Hellenic Greek tribes over some pre-Hellenic culture. Ah yes, the ever-popular theory of the “Dorian invasion.” The ancient shamanistic cults devoted to snakes, rocks, and the primordial race of Titans gives way to the civilized rule of the Olympian deities. It makes for a fun interpretation.

    And if it sounds like we’re smelling the vapors here, well, that’s another theory. The oracle of Delphi seated upon her tripod throne was called the Pythia, a vestige of Python and Delphi’s former name of Pytho. In popular culture since antiquity, it’s been said that the Pythia delivered her divine oracular messages in the form of ecstatic babbling after getting high on natural gas emissions coming from a sacred crack in the ground. Holy chasmic prophesies, Batman!

    The Apollo Sauroktonos is a great example of late-Classical sculpture and aesthetics. Praxiteles has entirely abandoned the blockiness of early kouroi figures, like the archaic Metropolitan kouros we explored in episode 16. He’s even transcended the early-Classical artist’s yearning for the idealized masculine physique to give us here a more calmed-down expression of realistic humanity.

    Furthermore, the grandeur of tales and legends conceived in monumental works of the earlier centuries continues to be explored by Praxiteles and his contemporaries, but in less direct ways as metaphors. Divine beings and mythical beasts are reduced to the mortal world of children and backyard animals.

    Think back to episode 6 on the Classical lekythos. Remember the vase showing Ajax burying his sword in preparation for his own suicide? There we had a similar allusion to a violent epic narrative through, all things considered, a pretty peaceful-looking scene. Here the epic victory of the god Apollo vanquishing the giant dragon Python has been reduced to a parody of a mischievous child teasing a poor, defenseless, frightened lizard. Whether you’re familiar with the background narrative or not, regardless, it sure makes a great lawn ornament.

    Thanks for tuning in. As always, I encourage you to check out, where, for this episode especially, you’ll find lots of great links and references in the footnotes of the transcript, including more details on the background of the Cleveland Apollo Sauroktonos and a few ancient accounts in translation of the battle between Apollo and Python, like Ovid and the Homeric Hymn to Pythian Apollo. I welcome your questions and comments at or on the website at If you dig the podcast, please consider rating it on iTunes, YouTube, or Vimeo. You can also connect with the podcast at and get in touch on Twitter @lucaslivingston. Thanks again and we’ll see you next time on the Ancient Art Podcast.

    ©2012 Lucas Livingston,


    [1] News Release: Cleveland Museum of Art Acquires Rare Monumental Ancient Bronze Sculpture of Apollo Sauroktonos.To put further fuel on the fire, the history of ownership for the Cleveland’s Sauroktonos is a bit nebulous:

    1. Art Knowledge News: The Louvre Declines Apollo Statue from Cleveland Museum of Art
    2. Stanford Archaeology Center: Cultural Heritage Resource: Cleveland Apollo Sauroktonos

    [2] It’s important to point out that both hands and the head of the lizard in the Louvre’s example are modern restorations. Similarly, lots has been restored in the Vatican’s copy, including the left side of the face, the right eye, the right forearm, both legs from the knees down, part of the tree trunk, the upper part of the lizard, and the pedestal. See G. M. A. Richter’s The Sculpture and Sculptuors of the Greeks, 1950, p 262, note 48. Those restorations aren’t just slapped on willy-nilly, however. Restorers carefully examine other copies and textual evidence to try to put together a faithful recreation of the original work. Even minuscule images struck on coins can provide a wealth of information.

    [3] Pliny the Elder, Natural History 34.19
    Latin: “Praxiteles quoque, qui marmore felicior, ideo et clarior fuit, fecit tamen et ex aere pulcherrima opera. … Fecit et puberem Apollinem subrepenti lacertae comminus sagitta insidiantem, quem Sauroctonon vocant.”
    Click here for another English translation

    [4] Jody Maxmin, “A Note on Praxiteles’ ‘Sauroktonos,'” Greece & Rome, Second Series, Vol. 20, No. 1 (Apr., 1973), pp. 36-37
    Jean Sorabella, “Eros and the Lizard: Children, Animals, and Roman Funerary Sculpture,” Hesperia Supplements, Vol. 41, Constructions of Childhood in Ancient Greece and Italy (2007), pp. 353-370 (see specifically p 364)

    [5] The Homeric Hymn to Pythian Apollo has a decent account of the conflict between Apollo and Python (δράκαιναν, “she-dragon,” “dragoness”). Selections regarding Python from the Homeric Hymn to Pythian Apollo (Translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White):

    (ll. 300-304) But near by was a sweet flowing spring, and there with his strong bow the lord, the son of Zeus, killed the bloated, great she-dragon, a fierce monster wont to do great mischief to men upon earth, to men themselves and to their thin- shanked sheep; for she was a very bloody plague.

    (ll. 354-362) Whosoever met the dragoness, the day of doom would sweep him away, until the lord Apollo, who deals death from afar, shot a strong arrow at her. Then she, rent with bitter pangs, lay drawing great gasps for breath and rolling about that place. An awful noise swelled up unspeakable as she writhed continually this way and that amid the wood: and so she left her life, breathing it forth in blood. Then Phoebus Apollo boasted over her:
    (ll. 363-369) ‘Now rot here upon the soil that feeds man! You at least shall live no more to be a fell bane to men who eat the fruit of the all-nourishing earth, and who will bring hither perfect hecatombs. Against cruel death neither Typhoeus shall avail you nor ill-famed Chimera, but here shall the Earth and shining Hyperion make you rot.’
    (ll. 370-374) Thus said Phoebus, exulting over her: and darkness covered her eyes. And the holy strength of Helios made her rot away there; wherefore the place is now called Pytho, and men call the lord Apollo by another name, Pythian; because on that spot the power of piercing Helios made the monster rot away.
    Greek text
    English text

    Gaius Julius Hyginus (c. 64 BC – AD 17), Fabulae 140 is also another great but late source for the legend of Python:

    “Python, offspring of Terra, was a huge dragon who, before the time of Apollo, used to give oracular responses on Mount Parnassus. Death was fated to come to him from the offspring of Latona. At that time Jove lay with Latona, daughter of Polus. When Juno found this out, she decreed (?) that Latona should give birth at a place where the sun did not shine. When Python knew that Latona was pregnant by Jove, he followed her to kill her. But by order of Jove the wind Aquilo carried Latona away, and bore her to Neptune. He protected her, but in order not to make voice Juno’s decree, he took her to the island Ortygia, and covered the island with waves. When Python did not find her, he returned to Parnassus. But Neptune brought the island of Ortygia up to a higher position; it was later called the island of Delos. There Latona, clinging to an olive tree, bore Apollo and Diana, to whom Vulcan gave arrows as gifts. Four days after they were born, Apollo exacted vengeance for his mother. For he went to Parnassus and slew Python with his arrows. (Because of this deed he is called Pythian.) He put Python’s bones in a cauldron, deposited them in his temple, and instituted funeral games for him which are called Pythian.”

    [6] Ovid, Metamorphoses, trans. Rolfe Humphries, Indiana University Press, 1.430-451:

    “When moisture unites with heat, life is conceived; all things come from this union. … So when earth [Gaia], after that flood, still muddy, took the heat, felt the warm fire of sunlight, she conceived, brought forth, after their fashion, all the creatures, some old, some strange and monstrous. One, for instance, she bore unwanted, a gigantic serpent [serpens], Python by name, whom the new people dreaded, a huge bulk on the mountain-side. Apollo, god of the glittering bow, took a long time to bring him down, with arrow after arrow he had never used before except in hunting deer and the skipping goats. Out of the quiver sped arrows by the thousand, till the monster, dying, poured poisonous blood on those black wounds. In memory of this, the sacred games, called Pythian, were established, and Apollo ordained for all young winners in the races, on foot or chariot, for victorious fighters, the crown of oak. That was before the laurel, that was before Apollo wreathed his forehead with garlands from that tree, or any other.”

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  • 04/21/12--11:53: 49: Ancient Dragons
  • Episode 49: Ancient Dragons

    Greetings warriors. I am Lucas Livingston, your Dungeon Master on our intrepid journey though the mythical realm known as the Ancient Art Podcast. In recent episodes, we’ve encountered fierce beasts and fantastical monsters, notably that celebrated, timeless creature of legend known as the dragon. Here in episode 49 of the Ancient Art Podcast, we’re going to dig deeper, exploring the ancient legends and origins of dragons, separating fact from fiction and good from evil. Dragons permeate our cultural heritage in many forms and fashions: as ferocious fire-breathing, flesh-eating monsters, noble emblems of honor, and peace-loving creatures of earth, air, and water. But what are the ancient sources for our modern legends? From the salty depths of the Mediterranean, across the sun-scorched deserts of Central Asia, to the misty mountains of China and Japan, where do dragon myths first begin to take root? Can ancient authors help us find the way? Do mysterious remnants of bleached bones hold the key to the dragon’s secrets? Stick around and we may yet find out. So pack your bags, buy your spell components, and polish your long sword, because we’re going dragon hunting!

    Last time in episode 48, we learned all about that famous work of late Classical Greek sculpture known as the Apollo Sauroktonos by Praxiteles. Sauroktonos is usually translated as “lizard-slayer.” “Ktonos” comes from κτείνω meaning “to kill” and σαύρα simply means a lizard. But we also threw around the word “dragon” a few times. As we learned, the sculpture alludes to the mythological battle between Apollo and Python over the sanctuary and oracle of Delphi. In Ancient Greek, that titanic serpent Python is called Πυθών, which is just a name and that’s where we get the word “python” from, not the other way around. Now, as you undoubtedly saw while you were closely scrutinizing the footnotes to episode 48, a word we sometimes see to describe Python is δράκαιναν or δράκων, where we can clearly see the origin for our word “dragon.” [1] Artwork from the Middle Ages and beyond generally display a preference for representing Python as a stereotypical winged dragon, but (to play devil’s advocate) representations from ancient Greece usually show Python as being more serpentine than draconian.

    Another ancient dragon upon whose lair we recently stumbled is the one depicted on the Ara Pacis in episode 46. Not a lot has been published about this strange and wonderful creature. The woman perched upon the creature has been variously interpreted as a goddess of the sea winds, a Nereid, an aspect of Venus, and other beings. [2] Her and her compatriot’s choice of billowing attire reminds me, appropriately enough, of the Serpentine Dance, an 1896 knock-off of Loïe Fuller’s famous Fire Dance, which was all the rage in the Parisian Moulin Rouge scene.

    The creature upon which this mystery woman is seated is usually called a sea creature or sea monster pretty much just as an after-thought. A 1994 articled in the American Journal of Archaeology argues that the creature should be identified as a κῆτος or cetus [ˈsē-təs], which is, well, a “sea monster,” but the author describes it as a sea dragon emerging from the waves of the ocean’s depths. Nereids are said to ride upon a cetus and, if you’re watching your Downton Abbey, then you know that the Greek hero Perseus rescued Andromeda from a cetus sent by Poseidon to devour her after Andromeda’s mother, Cassiopeia, boasted that she was prettier than the Nereids. You might know the cetus better as the kraken, which is actually a creature of Nordic myth and Clash of the Titans certainly took some liberties with this. According to the 1940 publication The Fish-tailed Monster in Greek and Etruscan Art, the characteristic features of the cetus are a canine head, large erect ears, sharp teeth, and a scaly serpentine body. It doesn’t mention wings, as we see on our Augustan-age sea dragon, but wings don’t necessarily have to be a prerequisite to qualify for dragon-hood. That said, however, full-bodied depictions of the cetus from antiquity often show wings or little wing-like membranes, like in this Roman mosaic in the Vatican and this Greek vessel from the Louvre; similarly on this South Italian loutrophoros at the Getty. [3]

    Frequently, though, we scarcely see more than the mere head of the cetus and other draconian beasts. Here’s an nifty 6th century BC black-figure Corinthian amphora now in the Berlin Altes Museum. [4] It shows Perseus lobbing stones at the cetus while Andromeda stands behind. Draped over Perseus’s arm is the bag where he has stashed Medusa’s head. [5] One thing that’s interesting is how the head of the dragon seems to be emerging from some Neverland beyond the scene. Perhaps we’re expected to assume it’s emerging from the deep sea, like in other examples. There does seem to be a ripple of water under the beast’s head.

    In the Boston Museum of Fine Arts there’s a 6th century BC Corinthian column-krater, which shows a similar fanged beast of whom we see nothing more than the head with its lolling tongue. This is the Dragon of Troy or the Trojan cetus. Similar to the Perseus story, Poseidon sent this cetus to rampage the Trojan coast after King Laomedon failed to pay back Poseidon for helping to build the walls of Troy. To appease the dragon, Laomedon chained his own daughter Hesione to a rock as a sacrifice. Hercules just happened to be passing by after having wrapped up the ninth of his twelve labors. Seeing a damsel in distress, he slew the dragon and rescued Hesione. [6] Does that story sound familiar to you? The hero arriving in the knick of time to save the fair maiden, who was presented as a sacrifice to the dragon? Saint George and the dragon comes to mind. Same story of Hercules and Hesione that was later re-spun for a Christian audience.

    Hercules was no stranger to fighting dragons. In his second labor, he was sent to a swamp near Lake Lerna to defeat the Lernaean Hydra, a terrible beast with seven heads (although some say it had 50, 100, even 1000 heads). To make matters more difficult, when one head of this serpentine dragon was cut off another would grow in its place. Hercules was generally not proven to be the sharpest tool in the shed, but his resourceful side-kick Iolaus suggested that they take a flaming brand and cauterize the wounds after chopping off each head so that new heads couldn’t grow back from the stumps. [7] And to come up shortly after his encounter with the Dragon of Troy, Hercules would be sent on his eleventh labor to obtain the golden apples of the Hesperides guarded by the never-sleeping, hundred-headed dragon Ladon [Λάδων]. [8]

    Going back to Dragon of Troy on the Boston krater, we see Hercules shooting a volley of arrows as Hesione throws stones at a monstrous head jutting from a dark rocky outcropping. Like the Berlin amphora, this beast is nothing but a head. More so, our imagination can’t even fill in the rest of the creature, since the disembodied head seems to be isolated, lodged into a cliff face. What’s also curious about this image of the Trojan dragon is that its devoid of the fleshy scaliness of other sea-dragons. What does that bleach-white head with its vacant eye socket look like to you? What’s that … a skull, you say? In the 2000 publication, The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times, Adrienne Mayor convincingly suggested that this is an ancient Greek vase painter’s attempt at rendering a fossilized skull projecting from a rocky outcropping. [9] With its forward-pointing teeth, the author suggests that it could have been inspired by a reptile or toothed whale skull, or perhaps most convincingly the skull of a extinct giant giraffe like the Samotherium, which once roamed the hills of prehistoric Greece and whose fossils were most likely readily visible to any observant ancient Greek naturalist.

    The First Fossil Hunters also suggests that fossilized remains of the dinosaur Protoceratops could have inspired legends of the griffin among central Asian merchants traversing the inhospitable Gobi desert. The griffin is fairly well known to us today thanks to the antics of that wizard of Hogwarts, Harry Potter (ok, ok, Mr. Smarty Pants, technically that was a hippogriff). The Protoceratops has a large bird-like beak, long tail, four agile limbs, and … well, if you’re bound and determined to see claws, then you’re going to see claws. All that was needed was the imagination of some sun-scorched travelers to slap wings on this half-lion, half-eagle creation to conjure the griffin into modern consciousness. Most of us probably consider the griffin to be a beast of Greek mythology, but it actually originated in Central Asian, and later made its way to ancient Greece. [10]

    The First Fossil Hunters is an interesting read and painstakingly assembles all sorts of ancient Greek and Roman accounts of excavating and interpreting fossilized bones. The evidence stacks up fairly well to suggest that the fossilized remains of Earth’s gargantuan prehistoric animals inspired the many mythological creatures of early cultures, including the dragon in its many forms.

    The Ancient Greek World is not alone in its draconian heritage. On his visit to India, the first century Greek philosopher Apollonius described how the whole of India is infested with dragons of enormous size, from the marshes to the mountains, up to 30 cubits in length, with sizable crests on their backs and glittering gold or silver scales. When the dragons of the plains attack elephants, he explained, both creatures perish and the prized dragon carcass goes to the fortunate hunter who passes upon the spoil. The mountain dragon can take down an elephant, but the human hunter will subdue the beast through magical runes inscribed upon a cloak lain before the creatures lair. [11]

    What’s puzzling about Apollonius’s account is that there’s isn’t much from Indian mythology that would suggest dragons. There are plenty of Indian myths and legends about giant serpentine deities, like the Nagas ruling over the seas and pools, Ananta, the cosmic serpent of creation upon whom the god Vishnu reclines, and Muchalinda, the serpent king who sheltered the meditating Buddha during a torrential storm with his massive multi-headed hood. The original account by Apollonius is lost, but his tales are preserved in The Life of Apollonius by the second century Greek writer Flavius Philostratus. Philostratus uses the Greek word δράκων, but this may be a prime example where this term could be taken to mean a giant serpent instead of a dragon, although culturally the distinction between giant mythological serpents and dragons is pretty blurry.

    To return to the definitive ancient dragon, we need to continue our travels eastward to China and Japan. Throughout much of China’s history, it was not uncommon for merchant caravans traveling the Silk Road or farmers plowing their fields to stumble upon and unearth bone fragments of ancient animals. These relics were dubbed dragon bones and readily sold off to apothecaries where they’d be ground up and consumed for their medicinal value. Dragon bones inscribed with oracular predictions by ancient peoples are especially prized today … both in museums and still in pharmacies. Returning to The First Fossil Hunters, Ancient Chinese people happening upon the fossilized remains of extinct prehistoric species might help to explain certain features of traditional Chinese dragons, like antlers resembling those of prehistoric deer, who once roamed northern China and Mongolia. [12]

    Fantastical winged creatures and snarling beasts permeate the artistic heritage of China. A long time ago in episode 8 about cicadas, we already looked at the monster mask commonly gracing ancient bronze vessels as early as the 2nd millennium BC and earlier jade carvings of the 3rd millennium. Winged creatures similar to dragons and griffins often blend into the decorative repertoire of early Chinese art. The distinctive features of the dragon gradually crystalized and soon became a favorite subject of Chinese artists. These meticulously crafted jade dragon pendants of the 5th to 3rd centuries BC gracefully capture the benevolent, ethereal nature of the mythical Chinese dragon as a creature of air and water. The Daoist celestial immortals are said to soar through the sky on the backs of dragons as in this pair of Han Dynasty clay figures in the Art Institute. I’m struck by the similarity to images of Greek Nereids riding their own dragons. What’s really interesting is if you go halfway in between Greece and China along the heavily traveled trade routes of the Gandharan region of ancient Pakistan, at around the same time, circa 1st century BC or AD, you get the same thing, a Nereid riding her sea dragon.

    Unlike dragons of western folklore, the Chinese dragon is a nice example of a good dragon. To take a page from the Midwest Buddhist Temple podcast [13] Ok, maybe not as cuddly as Falcor, but hey, we’ll take what we can get. But like Falcor, the East Asian dragon is also a luck dragon. And with its association with water and rain, the dragon becomes a symbol of fertility and fecundity. That makes this a very special time, because 2012 is the year of the dragon. Associated with power and strength, the dragon is the symbol of the emperor of China, and the phoenix the symbol of the empress. Remember the Art Institute’s Ming dynasty blue and white vase from episode 8? Here we see a sinuous five-clawed imperial dragon swirling among wispy clouds with phoenix birds flitting about. It’s a harmonious combination of the feminine empress united with the masculine emperor. Like the the yin and the yang, two complimentary opposites brought together to form a balanced and unified whole.

    To close, dragons, of course, continue to be widely celebrated today in both popular culture and fine art. Combining the time-honored traditions of the folding screen, painting, and calligraphy with modern abstraction, the 20th century Japanese artist Morita Shiryu enjoyed expressing his enthusiasm for the ancient creature. This screen in the Art Institute of Chicago called Dragon Knows Dragon literally spells out the title of the piece with the broad strokes of a gargantuan brush in highly stylized calligraphy. The artist used aluminum metallic paint covered by a yellow varnish to give the characters the appearance of shimmering golden dragon scales. The expressive forms of the words seem to animate like the coils of serpentine dragons, the figure to the right poised for the pounce, while the figure at left sails high among clouds with its long tail flitting behind.

    I hope you enjoyed our exploration of the origins and appearances of dragons in ancient art. Don’t forget to head on over to for all sorts of goodies, like detailed credits for all the images, a big bibliography, and transcripts with footnotes. The whole social media thing may not be to your liking. So, to paraphrase one of my favorite podcasts, The World: Technology podcast, there are many ways you can ignore me on social media. You can not friend me at and disregard me on Twitter @lucaslivingston. You may patently refuse to leave your comments on YouTube, iTunes, and Vimeo. But for the old school crowd, you can still get in touch with me via email at or send me your feedback on the web at As always, thanks for tuning in and see you next time on the Ancient Art Podcast.

    ©2012 Lucas Livingston,


    [1] Homeric Hymn to Pythian Apollo
    [2] For a summary of references, see page 67 in Babette Stanley Spaeth, “The Goddess Ceres in the Ara Pacis Augustae and the Carthage Relief,” American Journal of Archaeology 98:1 (Jan. 1994), pp. 65-100.
    [3] For a ridiculously large collection of ketos/sea-dragon images, check out the Flickr group Ketos (or Jonah & the seamonster).
    [4] Found in Cerveteri, Italy according to Carpenter fig. 159 and p106.
    [5] Carpenter mentions that the item on Perseus’s arm is the kibisis, κίβισις, “a pouch, wallet.” For more on the kibisis, see The Myth of Perseus and Medusa. The inscriptions tell us who the players are, but they may look a little funky to you even if you read Greek. It’s an archaic form of Greek substituting different characters.
    [6] See Apollodorus, Library, Book II, Chapter 5, Section 9:
    “But it chanced that the city was then in distress consequently on the wrath of Apollo and Poseidon. For desiring to put the wantonness of Laomedon to the proof, Apollo and Poseidon assumed the likeness of men and undertook to fortify Pergamum for wages. But when they had fortified it, he would not pay them their wages. Therefore Apollo sent a pestilence, and Poseidon a sea monster [κῆτος], which, carried up by a flood, snatched away the people of the plain. But as oracles foretold deliverance from these calamities if Laomedon would expose his daughter Hesione to be devoured by the sea monster, he exposed her by fastening her to the rocks near the sea. Seeing her exposed, Hercules promised to save her on condition of receiving from Laomedon the mares which Zeus had given in compensation for the rape of Ganymede. On Laomedon’s saying that he would give them, Hercules killed the monster and saved Hesione. But when Laomedon would not give the stipulated reward, Hercules put to sea after threatening to make war on Troy.” (Tran. Sir James George Frazer)  Link to original Greek
    [7] See Apollodorus, Library, Book II, Chapter 5, Section 2:
    “As a second labour he ordered him to kill the Lernaean hydra. That creature, bred in the swamp of Lerna, used to go forth into the plain and ravage both the cattle and the country. Now the hydra had a huge body, with nine heads, eight mortal, but the middle one immortal. So mounting a chariot driven by Iolaus, he came to Lerna, and having halted his horses, he discovered the hydra on a hill beside the springs of the Amymone, where was its den. By pelting it with fiery shafts he forced it to come out, and in the act of doing so he seized and held it fast. But the hydra wound itself about one of his feet and clung to him. Nor could he effect anything by smashing its heads with his club, for as fast as one head was smashed there grew up two. A huge crab also came to the help of the hydra by biting his foot. So he killed it, and in his turn called for help on Iolaus who, by setting fire to a piece of the neighboring wood and burning the roots of the heads with the brands, prevented them from sprouting. Having thus got the better of the sprouting heads, he chopped off the immortal head, and buried it, and put a heavy rock on it, beside the road that leads through Lerna to Elaeus.”
    [8 Pausanias, Description of Greece, 6.19.8: “Heracles and the apple-tree of the Hesperides, with the snake (δράκων) coiled round the apple-tree.”
    Hesiod uses ὄφις (serpent) in Theogony line 334.
    [9] Adrienne Mayor, The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times, Princeton University Press, 2000, p. 157 ff.
    [10] Mayor, p. 22-23
    [11] Flavius Philostratus, The Life of Apollonius, Translated by F.C. Conybeare, §6-10.Link to Life of Apollonius in original Greek.
    [12] Mayor, p. 39, note 19.
    [13] Dharmatalk: Midwest Buddhist Temple Podcast, 2012.01.08 – Rev Miyamura


    guitarguy1985, buzzer.wav (ID: 54047), The Freesound Project <>.
    Anvil of Crom, Soundtrack to Conan the Barbarian (1982).
    Limhal, The Never Ending Story (1984).

    See the Photo Gallery for image credits.

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  • 06/03/12--12:03: 50: Images of Buddha
  • Buddha at Sunset, Ayutthaya Historical Park

    In some Buddhist traditions, people are encouraged to devote 100,000 miniature stupas, pagodas, or idols of Buddha as an act of extreme piety. Well, I’m not that pious. We celebrate 50 episodes of the Ancient Art Podcast with 50 images of Buddha. Enjoy this feast for the eyes of magnificent Buddhist treasures from the southern tip of India to the snowy peaks of the Himalayas, from the lush Southeast Asian tropics, stately caves of China, and serene bamboo groves of Japan.

    Sound credits:

    Jani Hirvonen, “Buddhist Monks Of Kathmandu Chanting In A Temple”

    lectronice, “Singing bowl”

    RTB45, “Ancient Pana Lhakhang Prayer Wheels-Bhutan.wav”

    Timbre, “DJ Griffin’s Tibetan chant, (Freesound # 15488) with added harmonics, (a bit pan-pipe in places)”

    Capuchin, “Flutes.mp3”

    Capuchin, “Bells and drums .mp3”

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  • 07/23/12--08:24: 51: Beer in Ancient Egypt
  • Welcome back to the Ancient Art Podcast. I’m Lucas Livingston, your bartender in the pub of ancient civilizations. In episode 51 of the podcast, we examine the art, culture, history, and mythology surrounding the topic of beer in Ancient Egypt. We’ll look at the archaeological record to sort fact from fiction on the brewing process and maybe even dig up a recipe or two for Ancient Egyptian beer.

    It’s tough to overemphasize the importance of beer in Ancient Egypt. Without this wonderful fermented beverage, Ancient Egyptian civilization, like so many others around the world, would have been hard pressed to take off. In an age before proper sanitation, beer was safer to drink than the water. All those nasty pathogens that love to wallow in still water can’t survive in even the modest alcohol level of beer. [1] There’s even evidence that beer served as a commodity or form of payment in Ancient Egypt. Looking back to episode 37, we learned a little something about the true pyramid builders and the quantities of meat that they received as part of their daily rations. Archaeological evidence also points to mass consumption of beer among the pyramid builders. [2]

    To a lesser extent, wine was also pivotal in Ancient Egyptian society, but more so as an elite beverage and most of our evidence for wine in Ancient Egypt comes from tombs. Wine and beer played a key role as sustenance for the deceased in the afterlife. If you’ve been with the Ancient Art Podcast from the beginning, then you’re well acquainted with the Art Institute of Chicago’s wall fragments from the tombs of Amenemhet and Amenemhet (no relation). Both date to the 12th dynasty of the Middle Kingdom (circa 1976-1794 BC). On each fragment we see the deceased Amenemhet accompanied by members of his family. In one case, his mother Yatu. In the other, his wife Hemet and son Amenemhet, Jr. Piled high on the tables before them are the bounteous feasts that will nourish them for all eternity in the hereafter. Along with oxen, fowl, fruit, vegetables, and loaves of bread, we also see a number of ceramic vessels of the type for containing wine and beer. And just in case we aren’t sure what we’re looking at, the artists have thankfully give us descriptive captions. Down here in one example it says a “funerary meal.” And up above, we have the ubiquitous funerary prayer, which we call the “Hotep-di-nisw” and it says “An offering that the king gives consisting of a 1000 loaves of bread, 1000 jugs of beer, oxen, fowl, alabaster, and cloth, an offering of provisions, and everything good and pure on which a god lives for the revered one Osiris, lord of Djedu, great God, lord of Abydos.”

    You can tell how critical beer was to the Egyptians by looking at their hieroglyphs. If you look really closely, you’ll of course find the word for beer (henket), which resembles a little jug with a slender neck and a stoppered spout. Looking at the inventory of the funerary feast, you’ll find similarly shaped ceramic vessels, although some of these are likely meant to depict wine jars and religious libation vessels. Beer jugs tended to be more stout and wide-mouthed.

    If we switch over to the other Amenemhet for a moment, take a gander at what he’s hiding under his chair. Look at that squat, wide-mouthed jar. What’s that sticking out? If you’re familiar with Ancient Near Eastern art, you might recognize it more easily. Yeah, it’s a straw! It was quite common in ancient times to drink beer through a straw. In Mesopotamian cylinder seals we see people sitting around large vats drinking through long straws. Similarly, gracing the cover of Patrick McGovern’s excellent resource on ancient beer and wine, Uncorking the Past, we see this curious funerary stele in the Egyptian Museum of Berlin. This stele from c. 1350 BC comes from Akhetaten, the New Kingdom capital of the heretic pharaoh Akhenaten. Here we see a man with a Semitic-style beard and hairdo drinking his brew through a straw with the aid of a servant-boy. Opposite sits a woman in Egyptian-style dress.

    Beer was brewed en-mass to be consumed as quickly as bread and water. It was often a communal drink shared between multiple people, hence the wide mouths and long straws for easier sharing. The straws also helped penetrate the floating dregs and yeasty foam on the surface. Egyptian beer wasn’t quite as nicely filtered as modern brews. A good reason beer was consumed quickly was because it’s didn’t preserve very well. Certain ingredients could have been added as preservatives, like tree resins (think the cedars of Lebanon), but there’s not a lot of evidence of this from Ancient Egypt. And another shocker, ancient beer didn’t have hops. Gasp! No India Pale Ales in Ancient Egypt. In fact, none of today’s beers would be found in ancient times. Pretty much all modern European and American styles of beer include hops as a primary ingredient. Hops was mandated as a beer ingredient in the German Reinheitsgebot of 1516 (AD, not BC). The resin in hops serves not only to add awesome flavor, but also as a great preservative.

    Returning to one of the Middle Kingdom Amenemhet wall fragments, take a close look under the offering table to see something interesting. There’s a funny-looking spouted jug within a pot. It’s hard to say exactly what this is meant to represent. Likely a wine or beer container, but what about the odd design? Why put a jug in a pot? Well, my money’s on an Ancient Egyptian refrigerator! It’s a long-forgotten ancient technology using evaporation as a way to cool food or liquid. That would be especially welcome in a hot climate where edibles would spoil rather quickly. The technology of the nested-pot refrigerator (also called a “zeer pot”) is pretty simple. Just put one vessel inside another. They can be ceramic or metal; something heat-conductive, not insulating. Be sure there’s some space between the two pots. Fill that space with sand and water so the sand is totally saturated. Then cover the inner pot with a wet towel or some sort of insulating lid. Put the whole contraption in a warm, dry, shaded place. You might want to elevate it to let the breeze blow under. The water in the sand will evaporate, pulling heat from the inner vessel and causing the temperature inside to drop. This is a perfect science fair project that also promotes sustainability and social awareness for third world nations. For a great video demo of the nested-pot fridge, check out Revision3’s Scientific Tuesdays “Flower Pot Fridge” (or just google “Scientific Tuesdays flower pot fridge”). Also be sure to check out the footnotes to this episode at for more sources on modern applications of the zeer pot. [3] So, if my wholeheartedly conjectural and unsupported claim is correct, the Ancient Egyptians likely enjoyed their beer chilled. Aha, but the words of at least one Ancient Egyptian actually support this! A surviving testimonial against some petty robbers states that “They drew a bottle of beer which was [cooling] in water, while I was staying in my father’s room.” [4]

    Back up in the inscription on the other Amenemhet fragment we see a complicated hieroglyph composed of the glyph for a house along with a loaf of bread, a jug of beer, and a thingamajig. All together, this means a “mortuary offering.” So, bread and beer were the quintessential foodstuffs of the afterlife and, by association, life on earth along the banks of the Nile at least four thousand years ago.

    Bread and beer are closely related in the archaeological record. They involve the same primary ingredients: barely or emmer grain, water, and yeast (although the latter wasn’t discovered until much later … we’re talking Louis Pasteur in the 19th century). Beer is often dubbed liquid bread, but the two require rather different preparation processes. It’s popularly believed that, to make beer, the Ancient Egyptians took freshly partially baked bread, crumbled it up, soaked it in water, and fermented that concoction. Those of us with fond memories of the 2010 Discovery Channel series Brew Masters may recall the Ancient Ale episode where the Delaware-based Dogfish Head Craft Brewery developed its Ancient Egyptian-inspired ale Ta Henket. That episode certainly captured the mystique of Ancient Egypt, but it also perpetuated the notion that Egyptian beer was brewed from bread.

    In the mid to late 90’s, archaeobotanist Delwen Samuel analyzed the ancient residues found inside Egyptian beer vessels. Her analysis found no microscopic evidence of milled and baked grain in these residues (so, no bread), but found plenty of evidence of malted and unmalted barley and emmer grain. [5] There’s a mildly alcoholic modern Egyptian beverage made from lightly baked bread called bouza, which is prepared today by Egyptian Coptic Christians. [6] It’s tempting to see this as a modern vestige of ancient practices, but to be serious, we need more than just speculation.

    The Ancient Egyptians may have also included certain additives in their beer. Egyptian wine certainly included a variety of added ingredients like coriander, sage, thyme, mint, and other herbs and spices. And beer may also have had added fruits and spices. Grains are pretty stubborn when fermenting on their own under natural airborne yeasts, but the added sugars in fruit may have helped induce fermentation, as suggested by Patrick McGovern in Uncorking the Past [7], but Samuel counters that there is little direct evidence of this in the archaeological record. [8] If you want to delve deeper into Delwen Samuel’s research, head on over to where you can download plenty of interesting articles. But we can’t take any one particular study to be conclusive for all of Ancient Egyptian beer. There’s evidence for many different styles of beer across the vast geography and thousands of years of Egyptian civilization. There’s also strong evidence that bread and fruit additives played a role in ancient Mesopotamian ale, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if recipes were traded back and forth over time. [9]

    I’d like to take a moment now for a word from the sponsor of this episode of the Ancient Art Podcast, Pharaoh Hop’n’khamun Ale:

    After a long day of pyramid-building under the heat of the Egyptian sun, I like to unwind with a tall, frosty mug of Pharaoh Hop’n’khamun, an Ancient Egyptian beer with a modern twist. Brewed from the finest malted barley and emmer grain fit for a pharaoh and infused with the sweet resins from the Cedars of Lebanon, Pharaoh Hop’n’khamun takes you back to the incense-shrouded mysteries of Karnak Temple. A secret blend of fruit and spices extracted from the wine of King Scorpion’s tomb and the bitterness of American hops packs an aromatic punch sure to please the modern palette. So crack open a Pharaoh Hop’n’khamun today. Visit to learn more. And now back to the program.

    The notion of adding fruit to beer is explored in the ancient legend of the lion goddess Sekhmet, the ferocious enforcer of the gods, who went by the code name the “Eye of Ra.” According to the legend found in the tomb of King Tut among others, humans had plotted against the sun god Ra, because they thought he had grown weak and feeble in his age. Well, Ra wouldn’t have it. So he sent forth his assassin, the Eye of Ra, in the form of the cow goddess Hathor to destroy mankind. She went into the desert and butchered the cowering people, who rightly feared Ra’s vengeance. Ra was pleased with her work and transformed her into the bloodthirsty lioness Sekhmet (the “Powerful One”). All night Sekhmet waded in the blood of those she had slain. Ra grew concerned about Sekhmet’s blood lust and feared she would continue her rampage in the morning until all of mankind had been slain. So, he had his servants brew a massive quantity of beer mixed with the red fruit of mandrake in some versions of the tale, red ochre mineral in other versions, and pomegranate fruit in yet other versions. These 7,000 jars of blood-red beer were poured onto the ground where Sekhmet planned to begin her slaughter in the morning. As dawn broke, she came upon the lake of beer. Thinking it to be blood, she gorged herself until she was so entirely drunk that she couldn’t continue with her rampage. Then the fierce lioness Sekhmet transformed into the sweet, demure, pussy-cat goddess Bastet. [10]

    Now, I wouldn’t go brewing mandrake ale just yet, but this tale does offer up an interesting ethnographic case study. Did the Egyptians brew a fermented beverage involving pomegranate? Did they exploit the hallucinogenic properties of mandrake in their alcoholic beverages or was that exclusively for subduing the wrathful Sekhmet? Perhaps time and further residue analysis will tell, but for now we’ll permit ourselves to run wild with frothy speculation. Now go have a cold one for me … and put it on King Tut’s tab.

    Thanks for listening to the Ancient Art Podcast. Be sure to check out the footnotes and references at for this and other episodes, where you’ll also find image credits and links to other great online resources. And if you’re interested in following along as I delve deeper into the magical realm of home brewing with an ancient twist, check out my new brew blog at Don’t forget you can find me at and on Twitter @lucaslivingston. I love reading your comments on YouTube, iTunes, and Vimeo. And you can get in touch with me on email at or send me your feedback on the web at As always, thanks for tuning in and see you next time on the Ancient Art Podcast.

    ©2012 Lucas Livingston,


    [1] McGovern, Patrick, Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages, University of California Press, 2009, p. 7, 243. See also Charlie Papazian, The Complete Joy of Home Brewing, 3rd Edition, HarperCollins Publishers, 2003, p. 25.

    [2] McGovern 244 and Brian Handwerk, “Pyramid Builders’ Village Found in Egypt,” National Geographic News, updated 18 September 2002, retrieved 3 July 2012.

    [3] Zeer-pot resources:

    1. “Pot-in-pot refrigerator,” Wikipedia, retrieved 3 July, 2012.
    2. Lloyd Alter, “Solar Fridge Invented (Again) by UK Student,”, 8 January, 2009, retrieved 3, July 2012.
    3. “Zeer pot fridge: How a clay pot refrigerator can help beat hunger,” Practical Action, retrieved 3 July, 2012.

    [4] Excerpt from Mariette G. Maspero, Etudes de mythologie et d’archéologie égyptiennes, vol. 3, 1898. Website retrieved 29 June 2012.

    [5] Samuel Delwen and P. Bolt, “Rediscovering Ancient Egyptian Beer” in Brewers’ Guardian, 124:26-31 (December 1995) and “Archaeology of Ancient Egyptian Beer,” in Journal of the American Society of Brewing Chemists, 54 (1996), p. 3-12.

    [6] McGovern 245 & Samuel, Delwen, “Brewing and Baking in Ancient Egyptian Art,” in Food in the Arts: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 1998, edited by Harlan Walker, Prospect Books, 1999, p. 174. As an aside, apparently there’s no etymological relationship between “bouza” and the English vernacular “booze.”

    [7] McGovern 243.

    [8] Samuel, Delwen, “Archaeology of Ancient Egyptian Beer,” in Journal of the American Society of Brewing Chemists, 54 (1996), p. 10.

    [9] Kathleen R. Mineck, “Beer Brewing in Ancient Mesopotamia” in The Oriental Institute News & Notes, No. 201 (Spring 2009), 8-10.

    [10] McGovern 246 & Lewis Spence, Egypt: Myths and Legends, London: George G. Harrap & Co., Ltd, 1915, Senate, 1994, p. 166-8 & Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature: Volume 2, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1975-76, p. 197-9.


    Soundtrack to Pharaoh Hop’n’khamun advertisement:
    Jim Boz, “Kendra” from the album Folkatronic
    Available on iTunes

    Additional media courtesy of:

    Metropolitan Museum of Art
    Art Institute of Chicago
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    Harry Potter © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
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  • 09/22/12--10:14: 52: Wine in Ancient Egypt
  • Harvesting Grapes, Tomb of Nakht

    Greetings, fellow swaggers, and welcome back to the Ancient Art Podcast. Previously in our pontifications on ancient indulgence, we explored the pivotal role of beer in Ancient Egypt as fuel for the pyramid builders, as an eternal offering to the gods and dead, as an excuse for inventing refrigeration, and as as an all-around-safer-to-drink-than-the-water beverage.

    In this episode, let us turn away from the beverage of the unwashed masses to the finer drink, wine. As mentioned previously, wine in Ancient Egypt was something of a luxury commodity, a beverage for the elite. The earliest wine in Egypt from about 3,100 BC wasn’t even from Egypt. It was imported all the way from the Levant—what’s today around in the region of Jordan and southern Palestine. A massive cache of this imported wine was discovered in the tomb of King Scorpion I (yes, there really was a King Scorpion). This cache of wine would serve as sustenance for the king in the hereafter. While commoners like Amenemhet, whom we met last time, had to suffice with a mere reasonable number of physical offerings and a meager inscription promising a 1,000 vessels of alcohol, over 1,000 years earlier King Scorpion was buried with over 4,500 liters or about 1,200 gallons of the good stuff. It’s good to be the king.

    Wine didn’t take long to establish a foothold in Egypt. We soon see royal wineries cropping up and the institutionalization of wine in religious practice. [1] Egyptian wine included a variety of added ingredients like coriander, sage, thyme, mint, and other herbs and spices. They weren’t all added at once, but chemical analysis of ancient residue reveals different ingredients in different quantities. So you’d have a variety of styles and flavors. Fruit like figs and whole grapes or raisins were also added to enhanced the taste and possibly even help kick-start the fermentation. [2]

    Wine was a contributing factor in the development of writing. With all those different varieties of wine, you’d want a way to keep track of your inventory. Some of the earliest hieroglyphs from Egypt are found on jar labels for food and wine. They were made from incised cylinder seals rolled over wet clay, a technique borrowed from the Ancient Near East. [3] Distinctions found on more elaborate wine labels included the names for the regions of origin, sometimes even including the estate and vintner name. Much as we today have recommended pairings of certain wine with fish, filet mignon, and duck, the Egyptians indicated their wine as being “wine for merry making,” “wine for offerings,” or “wine for taxes.” And in their reviews of wine, Ancient Egyptians pretty much cut to the chase with descriptions including “genuine,” “good,” “very good,” and “very very good.” [4]

    Fast forward over 1,000 years past King Scorpion to the New Kingdom and we see a highly developed art of Egyptian wine-making and wine-drinking. On the magnificent painted wall fragments from the tomb of Nebamun now in the British Museum, we see a most sumptuous affair celebrating the deceased’s eternal feast in the afterlife. In one section, numerous elegantly dressed guests seated at a cocktail party are handed small drinking cups by young nude servants. The cups are likely meant to hold wine and we see the fruitful bounty of the funerary feast to the left, including meat, bread, fruit, notably ripe purple grapes overflowing their baskets, and numerous stoppered carafes of wine at their feet. Now, that’s a funeral I’d look forward to. And not that the Ancient Egyptians liked to immortalize anything unflattering, but elsewhere we even see the occasional good jab at these hoity-toity parties with graphic expressions of what these parties were really all about: overindulgence. And lest we still think the Egyptians thought too highly of themselves, the Egyptian word for wine was “yirp,” which some scholars today interpret as an onomatopoeic rendering of the sound one might issue after a little too much indulgence in the good stuff. [5]

    Not much later than Nebamun, the young King Tut reigned over Egypt. In the manner of a king, Tut was buried with an abundance of grave goods of the highest quality. Among his many coffins, statues, jewelry, glowing lamps, and furniture was a magnificent Egyptian alabaster chalice, the so-called wishing cup. So-dubbed by King Tut’s discoverer, Howard Carter, this chalice prays that Tut’s ka (his soul) spend millions of years sitting toward the north wind with his eyes beholding happiness. It’s flowering lotus shape is flanked by two lotus handles surmounted by the god of eternity, Heh, grasping in each hand the hieroglyphic phrase for eternal life.

    It’s conceivable that this magnificent work of art could have been crafted specifically as a funerary item, but my guess is that King Tut enjoyed this chalice so much in life that his beautiful young queen Ankhesenamun thought it only fitting that he continue to enjoy it in death.

    Wine was consumed in Ancient Egypt with an almost religious proclivity. In fact, wine forms a central role in Egyptian mythology and religious rites. Looking back again to episode 51 on Beer in Ancient Egypt, we wrapped things up exploring the ancient legend of the bloodthirsty lion goddess Sekhmet, who was tricked into drinking a lake of beer dyed red with pomegranate, thinking it was the blood of her victims. Her severe intoxication thankfully curtailed the mass slaughter of humanity and transformed her into the gentler kitty-cat goddess Bastet.

    This legend was very popular in Ancient Egypt and was reenacted annually in a sort of Spring Break Daytona Beach Girls Gone Wild Passion Play kind of thing. Our friend the Classical Greek traveler and historian Herodotus may have been witness to this festival, as he describes it with interesting detail in Book 2 of his Histories:

    [This is the scene at Bubastis]: they come in barges, men and women together, a great number in each boat; on the way, some of the women keep up a continual clatter with castanets (κροταλίζουσι – “they shake rattles”) and some of the men play flutes, while the rest, both men and women, sing and clap their hands. Whenever they pass a town on the river bank, they bring the barge close [to] shore, some of the women continuing to act as I have said, while others shout abuse at the women of the place, or start dancing, or stand up and [hike] up their skirts. When they reach Bubastis, they celebrate the festival with elaborate sacrifices, and more wine is consumed than during all the rest of the year. [6]

    And the archaeological record might corroborate this too. A 2006 report by archaeologist Betsy Bryan on excavations at the temple to the goddess Mut [7] in the Luxor Temple complex unearths some interesting evidence, including imagery heavily laden with sexual innuendo, like women fixing their hair and making beds for, well, you know. You also see images of lettuce, which was apparently thought to be an aphrodisiac, and lovers sharing figs. [8] We also find reference to an apparent “porch of drunkenness” associated with Queen Hatshepsut, and to some mystical rite known as “traveling through the marshes,” which was most likely a euphemism for having sex (perhaps not entirely unlike “hiking the Appalachian Trail.”)

    The Egyptian New Year’s festival, held during the first month of the year, just after the first flooding of the Nile, re-enacted the myth of Sekhmet with an all-out, slap-happy, drunken frat party. But this festival of drunkenness wasn’t all just fun and games. After the massive drinking had taken its toll, the slumbering revelers would be wakened by thunderous drumming. The goal wasn’t merely to get drunk, but to experience a state of godliness similar to that endured by the inebriated Sekhmet. This communal sacrifice of sobriety to the goddess would have her bestow blessings upon the community and preserve it from harm. [9] Right, and Akhenaten read Nefertahtahs for the articles.

    Well, we certainly haven’t emptied the whole bottle in the discussion of wine in Ancient Egypt, but for now, we’re going to put a cork in it. You can look forward to a future episode, where we set sail northward for an exploration of the beverages of Bronze Age Greece.

    Thanks for tuning in to the Ancient Art Podcast. Don’t forget, for more exciting learning, check out the footnotes and references at for this and other episodes. You’ll also unearth a treasure trove of detailed images, image credits, and links to other great online resources. And as I divulged last time, if you’re game for following along as I delve deeper into the magical realm of home brewing with an ancient twist, check out my brew blog at You can like the podcast at and follow me on Twitter @lucaslivingston. I love reading your comments on YouTube, iTunes, and Vimeo, and you can email me at or send me your feedback on the web at As always, thanks for tuning in and see you next time on the Ancient Art Podcast.

    ©2012 Lucas Livingston,


    [1] McGovern, Patrick E., Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of Viniculture, Princeton University Press, 2003, p. 102.

    [2] McGovern, Patrick, Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages, University of California Press, 2009, p. 166. See also Patrick McGovern, “Wine for Eternity,” Archaeology 51.4 (July/August 1998), 28-34.

    [3] Uncorking the Past 166.

    [4] Ancient Wine 123

    [5] Ancient Wine 87

    [6] Herodotus. The Histories: Book 2, section 60. Trans. Aubrey de Sélincourt. New York: Penguin Books, 1972, p. 152-3.

    [7] Mut, Hathor, Bastet, and Sekhmet all tend to blur together in Egyptian religion by the time of the New Kingdom, the fancy word for that being “syncretism.”

    [8] Abstract for a paper delivered by Betsy Bryan “Rituals in Ancient Egypt,” The 44th Annual Conference of New Horizons in Science, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, October 28-31, 2006.

    [9] Alan Boyle, “Sex and Booze Figured in Egyptian Rites,” NBC News, October 30, 2006. Retrieved July 3, 2012.

    See the Photo Gallery for detailed photo credits.


    Metropolitan Museum of Art
    British Museum
    University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
    Johns Hopkins University
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  • 10/31/12--12:12: 53: Medusa, Mythic Monster
  • Medusa, Mythic Monster (Ancient Art Podcast 53)

    Greetings ghouls and gals. Welcome back to the Ancient Art Podcast. I’m your ghost of a host, Lucas Livingston. In the spirit of Halloween, with monstrous fiends and tortured souls lurking about in dark shadows, I bring you this haunting episode of a mythic monster from the Classical world, the Gorgon Medusa.

    In the lineage of the earth goddess, Gaia, Medusa is a chthonic being, a creature born of the chaotic shamblings from Earth’s dark abyss, much as we encountered in previous episodes exploring dragons from ancient myth and legend, like Python and Typhon. The monstrous Medusa is well known to modern souls, so fiendishly ugly with twisting snakes for hair that a brief gaze upon her visage will transform you to stone.

    In the 7th century BC poem Theogony, among the litany of the origins of the myriad of hybrid monsters and creatures conjured up in the minds of the Greeks or imported from neighboring cultures and myths, the poet Hesiod mentions the children of Ceto and Phorcys, themselves sister and brother by the earth goddess Gaia and the primordial sea Pontus. Among these children are Medusa and her two sisters, collectively known as the Gorgons, from the Greek word γοργός meaning grim, fierce, or terrible.

    “And again, Ceto bore to Phorcys the fair-cheeked Graeae, sisters grey from their birth … and the Gorgons who dwell beyond glorious Ocean in the frontier land towards Night where are the clear-voiced Hesperides, Sthenno, and Euryale, and Medusa who suffered a woeful fate: she was mortal, but the two were undying and grew not old. With her lay the Dark-haired One [Poseidon] in a soft meadow amid spring flowers. And when Perseus cut off her head, there sprang forth great Chrysaor and the horse Pegasus…”
    Theogony, ln. 270, trans. Hugh G. Evelyn-White, 1914.

    We learn a lot from that short passage in the Theogony. We learn that the Gorgons were sisters to the Graiae. Those are the three elderly crones who share one eye and one tooth between them. And we learn about the three Gorgons, Stheno, Euryale, and Medusa. While Stheno and Euryale are immortal, Medusa learns the hard way that she, indeed, was not. Perseus, the hero of the modern film The Clash of the Titans, beheaded Medusa. And he was extra clever about it. As Medusa’s gaze would petrify any onlooker, Perseus observed Medusa indirectly through the reflective surface of the mirrored shield he had received from the goddess Athena. In the Metamorphoses, the Roman poet Ovid recounts the tale as Perseus approaches the lair of the Gorgon:

    “Along the way, in fields and by the roads, I saw on all sides men and animals—like statues—turned to flinty stone at sight of dread Medusa’s visage. Nevertheless reflected on the brazen shield I bore upon my left, I saw her horrid face.

    “When she was helpless in the power of sleep and even her serpent-hair was slumber-bound, I struck, and took her head sheer from the neck. To winged Pegasus the blood gave birth, his brother also, twins of rapid wing.”
    Metamorphoses iv, 780-790, trans. Brookes More, 1922.

    And in a manner of speaking, Medusa has children. In both passages, Hesiod’s Theogony and Ovid’s Metamorphoses, we learn that the blood spilt from the severed head of Medusa gave birth to two creatures, brothers, Chrysaor and the winged horse Pegasus. Yes, the majestic Pegasus sprung from the gore of Medusa. We’re all too familiar with Pegasus, from fairly tales and My Little Pony to Clash of the Titans and Dungeons & Dragons. And to be entirely faithful to Greek legend, there was only one Pegasus. Not like the teaming hoards of unicorns and fire mares. We don’t hear much about Chrysaor, though. His name essentially means “the dude with a golden weapon,” and, yeah, that’s pretty much all there is to say about Chrysaor, except that he also had a son named Geryon, which is the name of a pretty wicked slice at Dante’s Pizzeria in Chicago.

    Back to the matriarch, though. Medusa wasn’t always such a beastly monster. In fact, even ancient authors relished in the ambiguous appearance of Medusa, at once both beautiful and terrifying. In an ode written in 490 BC, Pindar speaks of “fair-cheeked Medusa.” A few examples of Greek vase painting depict the slumbering Medusa as not entirely unattractive. And many later images show a much more attractive Medusa. A few lines later in that passage from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Perseus recounts the background story behind Medusa—the cruel curse that damned this once beautiful maiden:

    “Beyond all others she was famed for beauty, and the envious hope of many suitors. Words would fail to tell the glory of her hair, most wonderful of all her charms—A friend declared to me he saw its lovely splendour. Fame declares the Sovereign of the Sea attained her love in chaste Minerva’s temple. While enraged she turned her head away and held her shield before her eyes. To punish that great crime Minerva changed the Gorgon’s splendid hair to serpents horrible. And now to strike her foes with fear, she wears upon her breast those awful vipers—creatures of her rage.” Metamorphoses iv, 792-802, trans. Brookes More, 1922.

    So, to translate that poetic speech, Medusa was raped by the god Poseidon in the temple to Athena. As punishment for apparently allowing herself to fall victim to the attack on sacred ground of the virgin goddess, Athena transformed the beautiful Medusa into the fiend we commonly know.

    At the end of that passage, Ovid also mentions the aegis, or the gorgonian, the face of Medusa worn upon the breastplate of Athena. Upon completion of his quests, Perseus gave the severed head of Medusa to Athena, which thereafter she would proudly sport as an apotropaic device, meaning to “turn away.” Even today the aegis is regarded as a talisman to ward off the evil eye, not unlike the Eye of Horus in some cultures today. Interestingly, the aegis and the Eye of Horus share much in common. In addition to both being protective talismans, they are both severed body parts, rent from the whole corpus in acts of violence. Despite that, they were both culturally and spiritually considered complete symbols in their own right—not mere fragments dislodged from some previous host. Both also entwine serpentine imagery about the central protective device.

    Historians have often suggested that Medusa was not entirely the creation of the Ancient Greeks, but that she was part of a vast inheritance of myths, religion, and imagery from the Ancient Near East and from the Greek Bronze Age Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations. [1] It’s been suggested that the primordial Medusa could have been a snake goddess, a mistress of beasts, or perhaps a solar deity. [2] The Egyptian Eye of Horus is closely connected to the Egyptian snake goddess, Wadjet, the patron goddess of Lower Egypt, the Nile’s delta region. We often see Wadjet depicted as the uraeus, the snake entwined about the solar disk surmounting the heads of gods and perched upon the crown of Pharaoh. Wadjet and the Eye of Horus are quite conceivably one of the many pre-Greek influences that shaped the Gorgon Medusa.

    The origins and imagery of Medusa is a startlingly vast topic, so we can only scratch the surface here. But do stay tuned for a future episode delving deeper into the primal realm of that nether being, the Gorgon Medusa. We’ll dare confront the petrifying gaze of the monstrous fiend as we closely examine wondrous salient works of ancient art exploring Medusa’s roots, influences, and evolutions.

    Thanks for tearing in to the Ancient Art Podcast. Be-head yourself on over ancientartpodcast.organs to gorge yourself on a feast of high-resolution imagery with detailed credits for this and other episodes, and to chant the eldrich scroll that is the transcript. Your witch’s mirror of clairvoyance can scry the actions of the Ancient Art Podcast at and Do inscribe your mythic runes of commentary upon the walls of YouTube, iTunes, and Vimeo. And evoke the uncanny oracle of the podcast through diabolical incantations at or alight your broomstick to the email address of As always, the shambling hoards of the Abyss and I, your host, Lucas Livingston, thank you for tuning in to the Ancient Art Podcast.

    ©2012 Lucas Livingston,


    [1] Gisela M. A. Richter, “A Bronze Relief of Medusa,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Vol. 14, No. 3 (Mar., 1919), pp. 59-60.

    [2] A. L. Frothingham, “Medusa Apollo and the Great Mother,” American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 15, No. 3 (Jul. – Sep., 1911), pp. 349-377.

    See the Photo Gallery for detailed photo credits.


    Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)
    New York Public Library
    University of North Carolina Greensboro Special Collections & University Archives
    Classical Art Research Center & the Beazley Archive
    Johnny Decker Miller,

    Creepy sounds courtesy of The Freesound Project, created by the following artists, and remixed by Lucas Livingston:
    DJ Chronos, Horror Drone 001-006 (ID’s: 52134, 52135, 52136, 52137, 52138, 52139)
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  • 12/02/12--00:01: Krampus videos and more!
  • To go along with episode 54 of the Ancient Art Podcast: Krampus the Christmas Devil. Here are some of the best Krampus videos on YouTube. Check back later for more goodies.

    First, we must, of course, include the world’s most authoritative and investigative Krampus video on the Internet, by Lucas Livingston of the Ancient Art Podcast. 🙂


    Krampuslauf Graz, the best Krampuslauf video I’ve found:


    A gruesomely humorous Krampus carol:


    Krampuslauf Klagenfurt with an awesome Iron Maiden soundtrack (a cover band):


    A very abridged history of Krampus:


    A hilariously awesome animated Krampus song:


    A slightly less awesome but delightfully creepier Krampus song (I mean the singer’s creepy, not Krampus):


    A happy, kid-friendly Krampuslauf … at first. Then Hell’s unleashed. Is that Rammstein? From tiny, little Arzl, Austria:


    A decidedly kid-UNfriendly excerpt from the Venture Bros. Christmas Special with Krampus punishing the wicked [Boo, flash! Get with the program, Adult Swim!]:

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    Kirchberger Perchtenlauf Krampus

    Gather ’round young flock and prepare yourself
    For an alternative tale of that old mystical elf,
    Who goes house to house on cold winter nights
    Visiting sleeping children, who’ve been naughty or nice.
    ‘Twas the eve of Saint Nicholas, when all round about
    A silence so deathly was lurking throughout.
    High ’bout the peaks and the Austrian snow,
    Came a fiend with Saint Nicholas, whom naughty children well know;
    Coarse pelts of goat hair as its grim sickly mantles,
    And a sharp wicked crown of ram’s horns much like antlers;
    Red tongue stretching long as a slithering snake
    That can strike and tear flesh; children’s blood does it slake.
    It’s the night of the Fifth of December kids fear,
    When the judgment of children looms frightfully near.
    For the beast of the holiday weighs your virtue and vice,
    And doles out its torture based on naughty or nice.
    ‘Tis not falsehood, this tale of the great Christmas Devil;
    Since the dawn of the ages in the Wild Man we revel.
    Be warned that indeed his name you should know,
    For it’s Krampus today who may well steal the show!
    (©2012 Lucas Livingston,

    Krampus on rocking horseA wicked demon of lore calls home to the dark winter nights and snow-capped Alpine peaks. Clad in the coarse woolen hide of sheep and crowned with horribly twisted piercing horns, the Christmas Devil Krampus descends upon the unsuspecting at that singular time of year on the eve of the feast of jolly ole Saint Nick.

    Krampus can be traced back centuries and is regarded mostly as an Austrian legend. In Austria, Germany, and other Alpine countries, the feast of Saint Nicholas on December 6th is celebrated not quite with the same fervor as Christmas, but as something of a teaser or Christmas dry run. On the night of December 5th, before going to sleep, children leave their shoes outside their bedroom doors. If you’ve been a good little boy or girl, St. Nick will come by in the night and fill your shoes with fruit, nuts, chocolate, and candy. Of course, today most snotty-faced brats will say “Yuck!” to the fruit and nuts, but this was a different time, when fruit and nuts were actually kinda special in winter. The treats in the shoes is not unlike the American tradition of hanging stockings. In both cases we have footwear serving as a vehicle for an early Christmas treat, at least in my house it was. The stocking was always fair game at 5 a.m. Christmas morning before the elders would get up.

    Of course, if you’ve been naughty (see aforementioned snotty-faced brats), then we might expect a lump of coal in the stocking. Well, a hard lump of coal would be too good for the rustic Germanic youth. No, lashes doled out by the devilish Krampus are what you’d deserve! Grasping a switch of birch sticks to beat disobedient kids and a sack or basket on his back to drag off the especially naughty ones, Krampus is a Yuletide reality as much as Santa Claus, himself.

    Krampus and Saint Nick are not adversaries. In fact, they’re very much a tag team. In Santa’s sleigh, Krampus rides shotgun, or sometimes the other way around. Krampus is one of Saint Nick’s many companions among various European traditions. Like Krampus, some of his companions form a stark contrast to the pristine, jolly, child-friendly, gift-giver. In the German Rhineland we find the fur-clad Belsnickel, who’s also popular among America’s Pennsylvania Dutch. In much of the rest of Germany, the gentler, bearded, brown-robed, Santa-like Knecht Ruprecht (Farmhand Rupert or Servant Rupert) can be seen helping out Saint Nicholas. His dirty robes and ashen face are smeared with the soot of chimneys from his special deliveries. And most popular even today throughout Belgium and the Netherlands is Zwarte Piet or Schwarz Peter. This finely dressed lad with a similarly sooty face also doles out Saint Nick’s treats. According to some historians, in fact, the companion giver of both gifts and punishments may be the more likely model for today’s Western consumerist Santa Claus, rather than some pious 4th century Turkish bishop. [1]

    And not all of Saint Nick’s companions are human (of a sort). The saint is popularly said to ride upon a brilliant white steed, usually a horse, but sometimes a goat. The Yule Bock or Yule Goat is a popular Yuletide feature in Scandinavia. Made out of straw today, the Yule Goat is customarily set ablaze as a ritual reenactment of goat sacrifice during the pagan festival of Yule. And that pagan goat sacrifice is thought to be the celebration of an ancient Nordic legend. As chronicled in the 13th century Prose Edda, the god Thor drove his chariot drawn by two goats across the sky. Thor slaughtered the goats to feed his fellow gods and summarily resurrected the animals through the magic of his hammer. In the 1890 pioneering comparative study of mythology and religion, The Golden Bough, Sir James Frazer documents a Swedish performance of a man clad in goat hides as the Yule Goat:

    The actor, hidden by a coverlet made of skins and wearing a pair of formidable horns, is led into the room by two men, who make believe to slaughter him, while they sing verses… At the conclusion of the song, the Yule Goat, after feigning death, jumps up and skips about to the amusement of the spectators. [2]

    Could Austria’s fur-clad Krampus and the Scandinavian Yuletide goat-man have a common pagan ancestor? Krampus and the Christmas Devil get some attention in the 1835 German Mythology (Deutsche Mythologie, also commonly translated as Teutonic Mythology) by Jacob Grimm, one half of the famed titans of folk and fairy tales, the Brothers Grimm. While Krampus gets only a passing nod, our takeaway from Grimm’s analysis can be that the various threatening and sooty sidekicks of Saint Nicholas stem from Europe’s pre-Christian pagan festivals. And while they may have been incorporated into Christian, Christmastime, gift-giving narratives, these figures inevitably regress to exhibit some of their vestigial heathen characteristics. [3]

    Despite the Church’s best efforts to stamp out or convert these Old World pagan elements, Krampus is alive and well during the Feast of Saint Nicholas. Krampus enjoyed an especially popular revival in the early 20th century as a fixture on greeting cards. Customarily expressing “Grüß vom Krampus” — “Greetings from Krampus!” — these cards served as something of a cautionary tale against the perils of misbehavior. We generally see Krampus exacting his punishment on naughty children, stealing them away in baskets or shackles, threatening them with his switch, and pulling on their ears. Inscriptions tell the recipients to be “brav” (obedient), [27] or they reprimand the unlucky, “weilst schlimm warst!” (“because you’ve been naughty!”) [29]

    And still today, on the night of December 5th, amidst glowing candles and glorious aromas wafting through traditional Christmas markets in charming Austrian old town centers, rambunctious young men don costumes of fur, chains, bells, and horns to become Krampus for one exciting night of the Krampuslauf. You might call it a “Krampus Parade” or the “Running of the Krampus.” The Krampuslauf is not only extremely popular in present-day Austria, but it’s even making headway in American cities like Philadelphia with The American Krampuslauf justifiably takes on a family-friendly nature. In the Austrian Krampuslauf, however, unfettered by American litigiousness, people would be well advised to keep their distance, as Krampus won’t hesitate to invade your personal space. And that can mean some serious wallops from a stinging whip.

    With his bad-boy attitude and devilish good looks, Krampus also enjoys the reputation of being something of a ladies’ man. While a night at the Krampuslauf can leave the men with some bruises, the furry beast is more inclined to woo the ladies with a few strategic, teasing taps of his switch. And I’m sure all the ladies daydream of a dark, muscular rogue stealing into their bedchambers to abduct and punish them for being very naughty girls! And imaginations can run wild with that impossibly long tongue.

    So with December 5th just around the bend
    Or at most a year away,
    Consider well whether your deeds to amend.
    For it’s not on Christmas Day
    When a nighttime visit from a dark mystical elf
    Judges you naughty or nice.
    No, punishment stems from fierce Krampus himself;
    Let’s hope you’re not on thin ice!
    (©2012 Lucas Livingston,

    I hope you’ve enjoyed our holiday feature. For more Krampus goodies, visit, where you’ll find links to some of the best Krampus videos and resources on the Internet, the transcript and footnotes for this video (including our fun, little poems), and a gallery with credits for all the images and audio from this episode — and for the seriously interested, you’ll also find some great references for further reading. I also recommend you check out, which hosts a significant gallery of vintage Krampus greeting cards.

    Thanks for tuning in to the Ancient Art Podcast. You can like the podcast at and follow me on Twitter @lucaslivingston. If you enjoy the podcast, please share it with your friends and give us a big thumb up on YouTube, iTunes, and Vimeo. I always love hearing from you on Facebook and YouTube. You can also email me at or send me your feedback on the web at Thanks for tuning in and see you next time on the Ancient Art Podcast.

    ©2012 Lucas Livingston,


    [1] Smith, John B., “Perchta the Belly-Slitter, and Her Kin: A View of Some Traditional Threatening Figures, Threats and Punishments,” Folklore, Vol 115, No. 2 (Aug., 2004), pp. 167-186.

    In his study, Widdowson distinguishes three types of threatening figure. Class A comprises supernatural, fictitious and invented figures; Class B is made up of human beings with unusual characteristics; Class C consists of animals, objects, locations and natural phenomena (Widdowson 1977, 95). Among the threatening figures in Class A is, for instance, Santa Claus. To see him as such may seem strange, but he immediately qualifies when we realise that,in Newfoundland at least, he will take naughty children away in his sack or, in lieu of presents,leave them unpleasant objects in their stockings. Such punitive behaviour is not all that remote from that of Perchta and some of her counterparts or helpers such as Krampus or Knecht Ruprecht. (p. 178)

    [2] “Yule Goat,” Wikipedia. Retrieved 2 December, 2012.

    For a similar Yuletide practice of transforming and concealing once’s appearance:

    On the South Shore of Nova Scotia, Canada, a Christmas tradition known as Belsnickling occurs, where, similar to mummering, people go from house to house within the communities dressed in multiple layers of clothing and with scarves around their faces to conceal their identity. These people are then given food and drinks (usually rum or eggnog) until their identities are guessed, and then they’re off to the next house.
    “Companions of Saint Nicholas,” Wikipedia. Retrieved 2 December, 2012.


    In Whittlesey, near Peterborough in East Anglia, the traditions of the Bear, the mummers plays, wassailing, and general midwinter tomfoolery combine into the Whittlesey Strawbear Festival. A man is costumed all in the very best straw from the local farms and touted around from house to house demanding money and booze before leading the circle-dance festivities and, eventually, being burned (just the costume, sans person, we hope) to make way for the following year’s crop.

    “Santa: Last of the Wild Men,” The Old Weird Albion. Retrieved 2 December, 2012.

    [3] Jacob Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, Volume 2, 1835, trans. from the 4th ed. with notes and appendix by James Steven Stallybrass, London: George Bell and Sons, 1882, p. 514-516.

    … it is a darkening and distortion of their original nature in accordance with Christian sentiment. So it becomes clear, at last, how the once familiar and faithful friend of the family under heathenism has gradually sunk into a bugbear or a taunt to children: a lot which he shares with goddesses and gods of old. … And it is worth remarking how, in some districts at least, knecht Ruprecht, knecht Nicolas, appear at Christmas-time not by themselves, but in attendance on the real gift-giver, the infant Christ or dame Berhta: while these dole out their favours, those come on with rod and sack, threatening to thrash disobedient children, to throw them into the water, to puff their eyes out. … I can well imagine that even in heathen times the divinity, whose appearing heralded a happy time, had at his side some merry elf or dwarf as his attendant. … In Christian times they would at first choose some saint to accompany the infant Christ or the mother of God in their distribution of boons, but the saint would imperceptibly degenerate into the old goblin again, but now a coarser one. The Christmas plays sometimes present the Saviour with His usual attendant Peter, or else with Niclas, at other times however Mary with Gabriel, or with her aged Joseph, who, disguised as a peasant, acts the part of knecht Ruprecht. Nicolaus again has converted himself into a ‘man Clobes’ or Rupert ; as a rule, it is true, there is still a Niclas, a saintly bishop and benevolent being, distinct from the ‘man’ who scares children; but the characters get mixed, and Clobes by himself acts the ‘man’; the Austrian Grampus, Krämpus, Krambas, is possibly for Hieronymus, but how to explain the Swiss Schmutzli I do not rightly know, perhaps simply from his smutty sooty aspect? Instead of Grampus there is also in Styria a Barthel (pointing to Berhta, or Bartholomew?) Schmutzbartel and Klaubauf, who rattles, rackets, and throws nuts. Further, on this point I attach weight to the Swedish jullekar, Dan. juleleger, yule-lays, undoubtedly of heathen origin, which at Christmastime present Christ and certain saints, but replace our man Ruprecht by a julbock, julebuk, i.e. a manservant disguised as a goat. This interweaving of jackpudding, fool, Klobes and Rüpel, of the yule-buck and at last of the devil himself, into the rude popular drama of our Middle Ages, shows what an essential part of it the wihtels and tatermans formerly were, how ineradicable the elvish figures and characters of heathenism. The Greeks enlivened the seriousness of their tragedy by satyric plays, in which e.g. Proteus, similar to our sea-sprite, played a leading part.

    For the notes to this section, see Teutonic Mythology, Volume 4, p. 1436. (PDF p. 172).

    See also Chapter 4: “Satan Dons Furs” in Phyllis Siefker, Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Men: The Origins and Evolution of Saint Nicholas, Spanning 50,000 Years, Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., 1997. Also page 15:

    It seems obvious, therefore, that Santa Claus can be neither the alter ego of Saint Nicholas nor the brainchild of Washington Irving. . . If we peek behind the imposing Saint Nicholas, we see, glowering in the shadows, the saint’s reprobate companion, Black Pete. He, like Santa, has a coat of hair, a disheveled beard, a bag, and ashes on his face. . . In fact, it is this creature, rather than Irving’s creation or an Asian saint, who fathered Santa Claus.

    See the Photo Gallery for detailed photo credits.

    Media courtesy of:

    Apple Garageband

    Wikimedia Commons:
    Albärt, Hayden120, Keith Edkins, Michell Zappa, San Jose

    Allie_Caulfield, Andreas Schalber, burnlab, celesteh, Der_Krampus, elisabetta2005, geek7, gholzer, girl_onthe_les, Giulio GMDB, goodiesfirst, Hanna Alicé, hans s, herbraab, HERRUWE, klachak, leo.laempel, loop_1, misterbisson, NiceBastard, patze001, pixel0908, plastAnka, PsychoScheiko, riptheskull, Udo Schröter, Vincenzo Caico, wege7, Weiko

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    Episode 55: Jaharis Galleries of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Art

    Note: This post includes segments that were excluded from the podcast episode.

    After many long months of anticipation, the Art Institute of Chicago recently unveiled the new Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Art (on November 11, 2012).

    The new installation has quadrupled in size and, with its fresh redesign, encompasses the entire circuit overlooking the Art Institute’s open-air McKinlock Court (galleries 150-154). The long corridors of the new Jaharis Galleries lined with Classical treasures amidst bustling visitors almost give me the feeling of hobnobbing among the philosophers of an ancient Athenian stoa.

    Ironically, with the increased space dedicated to Greek, Roman, and Byzantine art, the Art Institute’s collection is not substantial enough to fill it. Over a quarter of the approximately 550 works of art on display are on loan from various private collections and other museums, including the Oriental Institute and Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago, the Field Museum of Natural History, and the Getty. [1]

    The Jaharis Galleries are designed in part by Kulapat Yantrasast of wHY Architecture, although I’m not exactly sure which part, as this design is a radical departure from Yantrasast’s earlier commission in the Art Institute, the Roger and Pamela Weston Wing of Japanese Art, featured in episode 34 of the Ancient Art Podcast, Haniwa Horse and Hokusai’s Ghosts. The refined simplicity and pedestrian-friendly layout of the Weston Wing seems to have gotten lost in translation from Japanese to Greek and Latin. The congested atmosphere of display cases in the Jaharis Galleries proves a little troublesome for groups larger than what I can count on my hands (I presently have all my fingers). You might find yourself careening into fellow visitors like a sailor dashed upon the Peloponnesian crags, lured by the sirenic call of some Athenian vase or Antonine portrait bust.

    The galleries begin with two works that form a bridge to other collections in the museum, which broadly express inspirations for or from the art of Classical antiquity. The c. 3000 BC Mesopotamian Statuette of a Striding Figure on loan to the Art Institute reminds us that Classical Civilization had one foot firmly placed in the cultural heritage of the Ancient Near East and Egypt (aka “Oriental”), which we have explored repeatedly in the Ancient Art Podcast. [2]

    The Art Institute’s refreshingly modern Cycladic Female Figurine from c. 2500 BC tantalizes visitors emerging from the museum’s Modern Wing with a simplified elegance and abstraction tantamount to Pablo Picasso. This reminds us of Classical art’s far-reaching fingers in European Modernism and in other areas of the collection, like 19th century American sculpture found in the adjacent Classically-inspired sculpture court [3], and in the Hellenized art of ancient Gandhara seen in the adjacent galleries of Asian art. [4]

    Beyond these initial sentinels, the ancient collection is arranged chronologically and culturally. For example, Greek art begins with ceramics of the Mycenaean Bronze Age, takes us through the Geometric, Archaic, and Classical Periods, and concludes with Hellenistic art of the age following Alexander the Great before pleasantly segueing into Etruscan and Roman art.

    One benefit of the aforementioned sea of display cases (as in Greek islands dotting the Aegean) is that the works have been relieved of their punitive “time-out” in corners and along the walls. I am especially delighted now to see most objects fully in the round, which had previously teased me for years with only glimpses of their back sides. As a friend and colleague put it: “There are some pretty good derrieres in the ancient galleries!”

    Truly spectacular is the brilliance of radiant daylight streaming into the galleries—most notably the Greek gallery. The powerfully raking light beautifully highlights the subtle engravings on the surface of the Greek vessels, used by ancient painters to outline shapes and figures to be filled in with slip and pigment. It may cause something of an initial fright to see powerful sunlight bearing down on vividly colored 2,500 year-old treasures, but take comfort in knowing that the clay-based, fired colors of Ancient Greek ceramics are not particularly sensitive to light. Furthermore, a UV-light filtering film applied to the windows eliminates the more dangerous part of the light spectrum. [5]

    Included among the ceramics, sculptures, and jewelry of the Hellenistic Period is a somewhat less than impressive fragmentary stone head of a Ptolemaic Egyptian pharaoh (Anonymous loan, 20.2012). Placed with its back against a large south-facing window, the details of this head can be difficult to discern on a sunny afternoon, but it at least serves as a vehicle for a discussion of Ptolemaic Egypt and an excuse to include one Egyptian piece in the newly expanded galleries.

    Conspicuously absent from the Jaharis Galleries, though, is the Art Institute’s beloved collection of Ancient Egyptian art. Gone is the world’s most beautiful Mummy of Paankhenamun. The Statue of Ra-Horakhty has flown the coop. Osiris must have fallen in his own trap door. And that Middle Kingdom ship has sailed. With the ancient art galleries quadrupling in size, one can only wonder how there apparently wasn’t enough room for the Egyptian art. As the Egyptian collection gathers dust in storage, its future location within the Art Institute remains a mystery. Perhaps they could take the initiative and place it among the art of Africa? In the mean time, I’ll derive pleasure in pointing out that the coin display cases throughout the Jaharis Galleries are unabashedly pyramidal in shape.

    As you make your way around the corner from Greek to Roman art, it’s tempting to establish a connection between ancient and modern. You waltz among the graceful curves of Hellenistic sculpture and vibrant primitivism of two bronze Sardinian figurines and Etruscan pieces set against the backdrop of the Art Institute’s gallery of public modern art in Chicago. This include maquettes for Alexander Calder’s Flamingo in Federal Plaza, Joan Miro’s variously titled piece [6] at the Cook County Administration Building, Pablo Picasso’s untitled sculpture in Daley Plaza, and the famed America Windows by Marc Chagall. Many of these and other Modern artists looked to antiquity as inspiration for their groundbreaking artistic styles.

    Happily, no longer is the collection of ancient glass sequestered in its previous isolation ward, but is now fully integrated and dispersed throughout the Jaharis Galleries, serving to help contextualize the art of glass in the broader narrative of ancient civilization.

    A delightful new promised gift to the Art Institute is a collection of eight Roman mosaics related to feasting and merriment. One of my favorites is this charming fish on a platter. The gentle smirk gracing its lips makes me wonder if the fish was not entirely displeased at being served for dinner. Or perhaps this helped a particularly over-empathetic Roman patron overcome his or her vegetarian inclinations. And while mosaic tesserae are generally not considered the most subtle of media, I am nonetheless struck by the level of detail in some of the designs. For example, the thoughtful placement of differently colored tesserae grants a simple sack the contrasting light and shadow of folds and creases.

    And a visit to the new galleries is also a multi-sensory experience, for better or for worse. In addition to the tantalizing visual treats and pleasant touch of sunshine on one’s skin, the cacophonous ringing of overambitious alarms when one so much as graces some works of art with too discerning a glance can be a bit distracting. Thankfully, in the weeks since the galleries’ debut, it seems that many sensors have been re-tuned to be a little more forgiving.

    For a far more rewarding audial experience, however, head to the back corner of the Roman collection, where you’ll find a little conservation nook with pieces that recently underwent restoration and an interesting video surveying the history of the collection and conservation techniques.

    Another multimedia feature you’ll find dispersed throughout the new galleries is an interactive educational resource called LaunchPad installed on 16 Apple iPads. LaunchPad goes beyond the gallery labels, offering up a wealth of information for selected objects including historical context, form and function, method of manufacture, and connections with other works in the museum’s collection. You could easily spend an hour or two absorbed in LaunchPad alone.

    Also on loan for an initial nine-month period are 51 stunning works from the British Museum organized in a special exhibition called Late Roman and Early Byzantine Treasures from the British Museum. As far as things go in the museum world, that’s a pretty lengthy period for a temporary exhibition. We can be thankful that the British Museum is remodeling their Byzantine galleries, which permits American audiences to become enriched by these treasures across the pond over in “The Colonies.” One of the highlights of the British Museum loan is the Lycurgus Cup, a fascinating 4th century Roman luxury object. Made of dichroic glass, meaning “two colors,” the cup changes from red, when light shines through the glass, to green, when reflecting off the surface. A clever lighting rig in the ceiling permits you to see this magical transformation before your very eyes.

    Late Roman and Early Byzantine Treasures from the British Museum is on display at the Art Institute through August 2013. Be sure to catch it while it’s there, as it’ll likely be a long time before these exquisite treasury objects leave London again. But after the British Museum loan leaves, that space in the Art Institute will serve as a venue for rotating special exhibitions of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine art. So, with over 550 works in the new permanent Jaharis Galleries of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Art, and the special exhibitions, we can look forward to plenty of new fodder for this epic adventure of the Ancient Art Podcast.

    Thanks for tuning in. Don’t forget to “like” us on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, YouTube, and Vimeo, and be sure to give us a rating and leave you comments. You can also reach me at or use the online form at Happy hunting and we’ll see you next time on the Ancient Art Podcast.

    ©2013 Lucas Livingston,


    [1] Press Release: Art Institute to Open the Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Art, Art Institute of Chicago, 25 October 2012.

    [2] See especially episode 5 on A Corinthian Pyxis, our three-part series on the Parthenon Frieze, and episodes 15 and 16 on the Origin of Greek Sculpture and the Metropolitan Kouros.

    [3] See episode 13: Ellsworth Kelly’s “Chicago Panels”.

    [4] See episode 7: Gandharan Bodhisattva.

    [5] Personal correspondence with Art Institute conservator Emily Heye, 20 November 2012.

    [6] You’ll find Joan Miro’s statue referred to as Moon, Sun, and One Star (Miss Chicago), and Miro’s Chicago.

    See the Photo Gallery for detailed photo credits.

    Media courtesy of:

    Apple Garageband
    Art Institute of Chicago

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    In the epic journey of home brewing, episode 56 of the Ancient Art Podcast takes you behind the scenes in “Build a Beer: Krampuslauf, Ein Holiday Ale mit Horns.” From high in the snow-capped Alpine peaks comes a powerfully spiced beer brewed in the tradition of German & Austrian Glühwein. Watch the beer take shape before your very eyes as the curtain is pulled on the home brewing process. Krampuslauf rewards good little boys and girls with treats of citrus, anise, cinnamon, and clove, while naughty children get flogged with a switch of birch and stuffed into Krampus’s scratchy sack. The rich crimson hue and herby, earthy notes will surely bring you back for another toast to Krampus the Christmas Devil!

    ©2013 Lucas Livingston,

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    Hello bold adventurers and welcome back to the Ancient Art Podcast. I’m your host Lucas Livingston. Back in episode 53, we explored the mythology and artistry of that demonness of Greek legend, the serpentine Gorgon Medusa. As foretold, we now delve deeper into her primal lair and confront her petrifying gaze as we closely examine a few salient works of ancient art exploring Medusa’s roots, influences, and evolutions.

    A point I made in the previous discussion of Medusa was that she may not have been solely the creation of the Ancient Greeks, but that she was part of a vast inheritance of myths, religion, and imagery from the Ancient Near East and from the earlier Bronze Age Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations. [1] It’s been suggested that the primordial Medusa could have derived from a snake goddess, a mistress of beasts, or perhaps a solar deity. [2] We previously compared Medusa to the Egyptian Eye of Horus and the Egyptian snake goddess, Wadjet. As part of Archaic Greece’s inheritance from its earlier Bronze Age civilization, could the famous Minoan Snake Goddess be the prototype for the figure of Medusa?

    These faience figurines of the so-called Snake Goddess were excavated from the ruins of Knossos on the island of Crete by Sir Arthur Evans in 1903. There’s scant evidence about their true nature, but they’re certainly visually striking. They’re both a little over a foot tall and are dated to c. 1,600 BC. One seems almost enveloped by coiled serpents about her arms and torso, even slithering up her tall crown, perched like the cobra of the Egyptian uraeus (although, we should note that that part is a modern reconstruction by Evans). [3]

    The other figurine grasps writhing serpents in her outstretched arms as if in some sort of ritual dance or chant. While neither figurine has writhing snakes for hair, it’s important to note that this feature of Medusa was a much later addition. As we already read last time in Hesiod’s Theogony, perhaps the earliest written account of Medusa, there’s no mention of snakes for hair.

    Just a mere thousand years later than the Minoan figurines, but at least on the same island — Crete — we have a couple fragments from a 6th century BC temple showing the typical Archaic Greek example of the grimacing Medusa. We see recoiling snakes flanking her head, and on the surviving torso of one of fragments she grasps snakes in her clenched fists with a symmetry remarkably similar to the Minoan figurines. [2] That said, there’s no hard and fast evidence to support a connection between the Minoan figurines and Medusa beyond just visual similarities and geographic proximity. If you want to learn more about the Minoan Snake Goddess, there’s a great essay by Christopher Witcombe at And also, while it’s a little dated, check out the 1911 article “Medusa, Apollo, and the Great Mother” in the American Journal of Archaeology, volume 15, number 3. There’s a link to it

    The grimacing Medusa makes her appearance throughout the Archaic Greek world. Way back in episode 5 of the Ancient Art Podcast on A Corinthian Pyxis in the Art Institute of Chicago, we were introduced to the sculptures from the pediment of the Temple to Artemis at Corfu just off the western coast of Greece. Built around 580 BC, this is the earliest known example of pedimental sculpture in Greece. The pediment is that large triangle above the entrance. Here we see Medusa with big bulging eyes and gaping mouth with lolling tongue. Tight curls of hair roll across her head ending with spitting vipers, and two thick serpents jut from behind her ears, swarming about her long braided locks cascading over her shoulders. Two more snakes are tied around her waist like a belt, facing each other similar to the grasped snakes from the contemporary temple fragment on Crete. In early examples it’s not uncommon to see Medusa in her entirety; not just as the disembodied head known as the aegis. And this Medusa is on the go, arms swinging and legs striding in the act of running. Flanking her are her two offspring, winged Pegasus and Chrysaor, who interestingly came into the world only upon Medusa’s beheading, but Greek art has a penchant for taking liberties with narrative chronology. If Medusa is thought to represent the wild mistress of beasts and feminine fury, as some have labeled her, it stands to reason here that she’d find herself decorating a temple to Artemis, the maiden goddess of the hunt, wilderness, animals, children, and childbirth. [4]

    Jumping back about 70 years, one of the earliest representations of the Medusa and Perseus myth can be found on a tall painted vase from about 650 BC. Remember from last time that Perseus was the Greek hero, who beheaded Medusa. This is one of the more famous works of early Greek art known as the Polyphemus Amphora painted by … wait for it … the Polyphemus Painter. You also see it called the Eleusis Amphora, because that’s where it’s from. Most of the attention is showered on the grisly scene on the vase’s neck, the blinding of Polyphemus (from the Odyssey; totally unrelated here), but along the body we see a very early image of the ghastly Medusa, or more specifically her sisters, the other gorgons, Sthenno and Euryale, chasing after Perseus. We can sort of make out the legs of Perseus as he runs off through the reconstructed section. The goddess Athena stands strong between him and the gorgons. Swiveling it around, though, we see the crumpled, headless body of Medusa. It almost looks like she has a serpentine body instead of legs, but the dark section is actually a wrap tied around her waist, and she’s wearing a long skirt. You can just make out her little feet peaking out from the bottom of her skirt. The faces of Sthenno and Euryale are more mask-like than realistic faces—truly monstrous with huge, gaping, fanged mouths, protruding tongues, piercing eyes, and vicious draconian serpents writhing about their heads.

    The geometric patterns on their chins almost seem to suggest beards. The bearded gorgon is not uncommon. The Nessos Amphora painted by, you guessed it, the Nessos Painter in c. 620-610 BC shows a similar scene of the gorgons giving chase to avenge the murder of their sister. But here we see bearded winged gorgons. The easy way to explain this is that the gorgon, as it evolved in Greek culture, became a pastiche of many ancient and foreign influences. The emerging Greek art, religion, and mythology adopted many Near Eastern and Egyptian concepts, including the already hodgepodge Egyptian god Bes, protector of the household, children, childbirth, and mothers, complete with grimace, beard, and sometimes tongue, wings, snakes, and all kinds of other attributes. He’s just a mess.

    Perhaps my favorite examples of gorgons in Greek art are found decorating wide drinking cups, which look more like bowls to us. The kylix was a favorite type of cup in Greek drinking parties, which we already covered way way back in episode 3 of the podcast on the Donkey-headed Rhyton in the Art Institute of Chicago. We can imagine the surprise and chuckle shared by tipsy guests at an Ancient Greek symposium as you would tilt back your kylix to quaff your wine only to reveal the glaring gaze of a gorgon staring out at you from the bottom of your cup. If perhaps only for a brief second, you might worry if the gorgon’s piercing gaze will turn you to stone—perhaps a commentary on the dangers of drink. And on the underside of drinking cups we sometimes find two large glaring eyes, so-called “eye cups.” And this decoration is similarly connected with the gorgon Medusa. As the drinker lifts the kylix to his mouth, finishing his drink, he dons the monstrous mask of the gorgon. His friendly companions then witness his transformation from the good-natured symposiast to the glassy-eyed beast of alcohol’s domain.

    Thanks for sharing the fun with me in our discovery of the creepy creature of chaos, the Gorgon Medusa.

    Don’t forget you can “like” us on Facebook at and follow me on Twitter @lucaslivingston. You can subscribe to the podcast on YouTube, iTunes, and Vimeo, and be sure to give us a rating and leave you comments. You can also reach me at or use the online form at As always, thanks for tuning in and see you next time on the Ancient Art Podcast.

    ©2013 Lucas Livingston,



    [1] Gisela M. A. Richter, “A Bronze Relief of Medusa,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Vol. 14, No. 3 (Mar., 1919), pp. 59-60.

    [2] A. L. Frothingham, “Medusa Apollo and the Great Mother,” American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 15, No. 3 (Jul. – Sep., 1911), pp. 349-377.

    [3] Witcombe notes: “Large portions of the figurine seen today are reconstructions. Of the original figurine, only her torso, right arm, head, and her hat (except for a portion at the top) were found. It not at all clear, for example, that it is one single snake that has its head in her right hand and its tail in her left.” Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe, Women in the Aegean: Minoan Snake Goddess, 4. Evans’s “Snake Goddess.”

    [4] Regarding Artemis’s role in childbirth


    See the Photo Gallery for detailed photo credits.


    Antonín Leopold Dvorák (1841-1904)
    String Quartet No. 10 In E Flat, Op. 51

    Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
    Fantasie, Funeral March and Finale
    (From Siegfried, The Ring of the Nibelung)

    Brian Boyko

    Additional media courtesy of:

    American Journal of Archaeology (1911)
    Apple Garageband

    Wikimedia Commons:
    Rama, George Groutas, Wolfgang Sauber, sailko, Dr.K., Marcus Cyron, Angela Monika Arnold

    Panegyrics of Granovetter (Sarah Murray), mari27454 (Marialba Italia)

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  • 06/29/13--14:38: 58: Lycurgus Cup
  • This is the complete transcript for this episode, which includes additional highlighted information not found in the free version of the episode available on YouTube, iTunes, and Vimeo. Get the full story at

    Hello friends. Welcome back to the Ancient Art Podcast. I’m Lucas Livingston, your tour guide on our journey through the art and culture of the ancient world.

    Back in episode 55 of the podcast about the Art Institute of Chicago’s new Greek, Roman, and Byzantine galleries, we met the Lycurgus Cup on temporary loan to the Art Institute from the British Museum. The Lycurgus Cup is an exquisitely well preserved example of luxury from the late Roman Empire. It was made in the 4th century of the Common Era, probably in Rome or maybe Alexandria, Egypt. [1]

    The cup is quite exceptional in that it’s the best preserved example of a cage cup from antiquity. A cage cup is a conspicuously excessive type of luxury vessel where the outer surface is painstakingly carved away so that the thin outer framework resembles something like a cage for the inner cup. Only very slender bridges cleverly veiled behind the decoration connect the inner and outer surfaces. The meticulous process required the most delicate hands and expert eyes of master glass-cutting artists (diatretarius, diatretarii), so only Rome’s exceedingly wealthy society members could have afforded cage cups. We’re talking the emperor’s inner circle of friends and family. Even more exceptionally rare is to have narrative designs like on the Lycurgus Cup. Most surviving cage cups simply support geometric patters. While fragments of other narrative cage cups survive, the Lycurgus Cup is the only fully intact example of a narrative cage cup known today. [2]

    Also spectacular about the Lycurgus Cup is its seemingly magical ability to change colors. It’s made of dichroic glass. “Dichroic” simply means “two colors.” That’s a bit misleading, though, because it wasn’t actually cast with differently colored glass. Rather, microscopic flecks of gold and silver are mixed into the glass. The minute silver particles in the glass cause light reflecting off of the surface to appear an opaque turquoise, but when light shines through the glass, the gold particles scatter the blue end of the spectrum, letting the red pass through, and suddenly the object glows with an eerie, spectral, crimson iridescence. It’s Ancient Roman nanotechnology! [3] For its exhibition in the Art Institute, a clever lighting rig in the ceiling permits you to see this magical transformation before your very eyes.

    The Lycurgus Cup gets its name from the narrative depicted on its surface. Lycurgus was a mythical king of the Edoni, a Thracian tribe. In Book Six of the Illiad, we learn that King Lycurgus banned the worship of Dionysus and drove the worshipers from his land. [4] The ancient author we call Pseudo-Apollodorus shares with us in his work called The Library — sort of a compilation of Greek myths — that Lycurgus imprisoned the maenads and satyrs of Dionysus. As punishment, Dionysus drove Lycurgus mad, upon which the king killed his son with an axe, believing he was chopping down a grape vine sacred to the god. [5] Another version of the legend tells us that Lycurgus got drunk on wine and tried to violate his own mother. After sobering up a bit, he scorned Dionysus by trying to cut down the god’s sacred vines, believing that wine and Dionysian reverie were the root of all evil. [6] There are many other versions of the legend, including the specifics depicted on the cup. It’s said that Lycurgus took up an axe and attacked the nymph Ambrosia, a follower of Dionysus. [1] In self-defense, she transforms into a vine and curls her tendrils around the enraged king holding him fast. Here we see Lycurgus ensnared in the vines of Ambrosia, while the axe has dropped to his side.

    If we turn the cup, we find the reclining Ambrosia recoiling from her attacker in shock and outrage. A pointy-eared satyr with a shepherd’s crook hurls rocks at Lycurgus with a perceptible fury. Dionysus, himself, makes an appearance shrouded in billowing eastern garb complete with a head wrap and thyrsos, the sacred staff of the god. [6] Dionysus was often interpreted by the Greeks and Romans as having been a god of eastern origin, who made his way to the west. So, we often find Dionysus associated with various foreign exotica.

    The goat-legged Pan seems to dance through the scene perhaps rejoicing at Lycurgus’s fate, while a panther sacred to Dionysus crouches below ready to pounce the wicked king. The axe dropped by Lycurgus almost seems to cleave his foot in two. That could be a nod to the version of the story related by Hyginus, who tells us that Lycurgus, stricken mad by Dionysus, kills his wife and son and cuts off his own foot, believing he was chopping down the grape vines of the god. And it’s in this version of the myth that we learn that Dionysus threw Lycurgus to the panthers. [7]

    You could interpret the dichroic play of green and red colors as relating to the story of Lycurgus. The crimson could be reminiscent of the blood of Lycurgus. The two colors, green and red, are also suggestive of the leaves of the grape vine and of red wine, or even the ripening of grapes from green to red, all of which relate to Dionysus, or Bacchus to the Romans. What we don’t know is if this was actually meant to be a cup in the first place. The gilded metal rim and foot were added in the 18th or 19th centuries. Evidence that dichroic glass was used as cups comes to us from emperor Hadrian, who is supposedly thought to have written a letter to his brother-in-law saying, “I have sent you parti-coloured cups that change colour, presented to me by the priest of a temple. They are specially dedicated to you and my sister. I would like you to use them at banquets on feast days.” [8] But the Lycurgus Cup could just as easily have been an oil lamp. The Corning Museum of Glass has in its collection a lovely cage cup suspended by a metal chain, suggesting it was used as an oil lamp. [9] Whether the Lycurgus Cup was a wine chalice or an oil lamp, it would have been equally spectacular in use. And just as it was prized in antiquity, so too is it celebrated and cherished by millions of spectators today.

    Thanks for tuning in to the Ancient Art Podcast. If you enjoyed our brief discussion of the Lycurgus Cup, I hope you’ll head on over to where you can get the full episode with far more intricate analysis. If you dig the podcast, be sure to “like” us on Facebook at and you can follow me on Twitter @lucaslivingston. You can subscribe to the podcast on YouTube, iTunes, and Vimeo, where you’ll hopefully give us a good rating and leave you comments. If you want to get in touch with me directly, you can email me at or use the online form at Thanks for tuning in and see you next time on the Ancient Art Podcast.

    ©2013 Lucas Livingston,



    [1] The Lycurgus Cup. The British Museum. See also Williams, Dyfri, Masterpieces of Classical Art, British Museum Press, 2009, p. 342. See also The Constable-Maxwell Cage-Cup, Bonhams 1793.

    [2] “Cage Cup.” Wikipedia.

    [3] Pollard, A. Mark & Carl Heron, Archaeological Chemistry, The Royal Society of Chemistry, 2008, p. 163, 186. Also Freestone, Ian; Meeks, Nigel; Sax, Margaret; Higgitt, Catherine, The Lycurgus Cup – A Roman Nanotechnology, Gold Bulletin, 4, 4, London, World Gold Council, 2007, p. 272. See also note 2.

    [4] Homer, Iliad, Book VI, lines 130-140.

    [5] Pseudo-Apollodorus, Library, Book 3, Chapter 5, Section 1.

    [6] Despite the feminine breasts and exposed midriff, the scholarly community labels this figure on the Lycurgus Cup as the god Dionysus. I am tempted the possibility that this might not be Dionysus, however. A maenad would also make for a convincing argument. Maenads are regularly depicted holding the thyrsos. With outstretched hand, as though sicking the panther on Lycurgus, the pose of this figure resembles the winged female (fury?) figure on the Munich Antikensammlungen Loutrophoros, but is also reminiscent of the supposed Dionysus at left on the same vessel and the supposed Dionysus (top right) on the Naples Museum Lycurgus mosaic panel. For a brief discussion of the feminine appearance and characteristics of Dionysus, Apollo, Christ, and other divinities, see Thomas F. Mathews, The Clash of the Gods: A Reinterpretation of Early Christian Art, Princeton University Press, 1993, p. 135.

    [7] Hyginus, Fabulae, 132.

    [8] Freestone, Ian; Meeks, Nigel; Sax, Margaret; Higgitt, Catherine, The Lycurgus Cup – A Roman Nanotechnology, Gold Bulletin, 4, 4, London, World Gold Council, 2007, p. 275.

    [9] “Cage Cup,” Corning Museum of Glass.

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  • 08/04/13--10:12: Curious
  • Ancient Art Podcast on Curious.comHi World. I’m excited to make a quick announcement. The Ancient Art Podcast and have teamed up to host episodes of the podcast at If you head on over to, you’ll find a growing catalog of Ancient Art Podcast episodes. Many of the lessons include multiple choice exercises and attachments or handouts, which teachers and students might find to be a welcome feature. And listen up, teachers! If you have suggestions for some great quiz questions to add, let me know at And you can also add comments to each lesson, which is a great way to interact with me and other viewers.

    Some of the lessons are free, but some of them cost mere pocket change. For a limited time when you sign up at, you’ll get 20 free credits to spend on the site, so don’t wait!

    Since October of 2006, the Ancient Art Podcast has been coming at you for free. Over the years, I’ve gotten lots of feedback from you all wondering how you could help support the podcast. Of course, simply helping to get the word out about the podcast is a great way to lend your support. But spending a little coin also helps me offset some of the costs associated with running the show.

    To that end, if you head over to, you’ll now find a “Donate” button. This offers the flexibility to donate however much you feel the podcast has been worth to you. From time to time you might see a campaign that I’m running for the podcast to raise enough funds for a particular expense.

    So check ’em both out. Visit and Thanks for tuning in and thanks for your support.

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  • 10/31/13--09:55: 59: Witches’ Sabbath
  • Greetings gashlycrumbs! Two years after its original release, I am now publishing the full & complete episode with highlighted content previously only available at Enjoy this spooktacular Halloween episode of the Ancient Art Podcast. Meet the wicked witches, devilish denizens, and things that go bump in the night in the Art Institute of Chicago’s painting “A Witches’ Sabbath” by Dutch artist Cornelis Saftleven. We explore the peculiar fascination Dutch and Flemish artists had with the proverbial “fire and brimstone,” including the famous pioneer of the genre Hieronymus Bosch. A detailed examination of “A Witches’ Sabbath” reveals various influences and motivations. We discuss the cultural context of Christian puritanism, the twisted history and legacy of the Witches’ Sabbath a.k.a. Walpurgisnacht, and its relationship with legend of Faust.

    Greeting ghouls and goblins. Sit back for another spooktacular spectacle in this festive Halloween edition of the Ancient Art Podcast. I’m your ghost of a host, Lucas Livingston.

    While floating through the corridors of the Art Institute of Chicago amidst Old Master paintings and illustrations, you might find yourself confronting a somewhat shocking scene of creepy crawlies and devilish denizens. This is A Witches’ Sabbath by the Dutch artist Cornelis Saftleven painted around 1650. Somewhat overshadowed by his brother Herman Saftleven II, Cornelis is nonetheless celebrated today for his paintings, etchings, and drawings. [1] And I’ll give him props for being dean of Rotterdam’s Guild of (my buddy) Saint Luke in 1667. [2] Cornelis was extremely versatile as an artist, producing some 200 paintings and far more drawings including portraits, interiors, landscapes, rural country life, including the popular Dutch genre of cattle paintings, biblical and mythological themes, and most notably images of hellfire and witchcraft. The proverbial “fire and brimstone” was celebrated in Netherlandish art (particularly Flemish art)—dare I say—maybe a little more than it should have been. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good pagan moot as much as the Wiccan next door, but this was more like a cultural obsession. The moralizing Hell and torture genre was kickstarted 150 years earlier by the acclaimed artist Hieronymus Bosch and was further popularized by Flemish artist Jan Bruegel and his father, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, who soared into public consciousness after his 1562 commission for the album cover to Black Sabbath’s Greatest Hits. (Lol!) [3]

    In all scholarly seriousness, though, Easter Egg! What’s different between Bruegel’s original painting and the Black Sabbath album cover? First one to post the answer at wins … first place!

    Dominating the scene in A Witches’ Sabbath, a creepy crone brandishes a broomstick riding atop a goat. A shadowy, robed figure gestures strongly with a bony hand marshaling our view deeper into the canvas. A strange dog-like Hell hound dashes forward as though to attack the denizens on the right. Most prominent among them is what at first seems somewhat like an ancient Greek satyr, half man, half goat. The ears and beard fit the bill, but those shaggy legs end in sharp bird feet, not cloven goat hooves. And his beautifully detailed butterfly wings seem like something out of the Seelie Court of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The wicked horns of some devilish being behind our colorful friend the “butterflurkey” draw our gaze further skyward to the shrouded denizens of the hinterground. An alien standard-bearer wafts an unknown banner aloft, while a melange of cruel mongrels grasp and tear at one another, churning like the ocean waves. Trails of glowing embers sail from their bodies into the darkness as if to suggest the Devil’s brood being burned at the stake or some mystical essence being ripped from their souls.

    Despite the overall fantasy of this scene, detailed observations from the natural world motivated Saftleven’s precise scientific rendering of many subjects, like the butterfly wings, amphibians, and crustacean. Saftleven was living and working in the Age of Reason, witnessing the birth of the scientific method and the invention of the microscope. Taxonomic and anatomical studies strongly motivate his work and the work of his Netherlandish contemporaries.

    It’d be easy to miss the large flat object in the foreground shadows if our eyes weren’t being drawn to it by the long rope in the hands of our friend the “butterflurkey.” Is it a wrapped and bound tome of necromantic incantations? The witch’s spell book, perhaps? Why is he dragging it along the ground? Did he steal it from the witch, who’s charging to get it back? Or is it just a sofa cushion for when he runs out of steam? We might not be able to say definitively what’s happening in this scene. The title might give us some help. The witches’ sabbath has a long dark history throughout medieval Europe, when witches and necromancers were said to gather and cavort with Satan’s minions. On October 31, All Hallows’ Eve or Samhain, the veil between the living and the dead is said to be at its thinnest and the dead return to visit the living. [4] At the exact opposite end of the year on April 30, witches were said to fly on goats and broomsticks to Brocken mountain, the highest peak of Germany’s Harz Mountains, where they revel with the Devil in celebration of Walpurgisnacht. [5] One of the more famous accounts of Walpurgisnacht, translated as the Witches’ Sabbath, comes from Goethe’s Faust of 1808-1832.

    “Now to the Brocken the witches ride; the stubble is gold and the corn is green; There is the carnival crew to be seen, And Squire Urianus will come to preside. So over the valleys our company floats, with witches a-farting on stinking old goats.” Goethe [6]

    This passage conjures some colorful imagery, including that of witches mounted on old goats, much as our witch in Saftleven’s A Witches’ Sabbath. But what do we make of “over the valleys our company floats?” While there’s no floating or flight in our painting, an 1829 engraving after an illustration by Johann Heinrich Ramberg interprets Goethe’s words rather literally, showing witches in flight on brooksticks and on goats approaching the horned god on the mountaintop. This might also remind us of Francisco Goya’s two well-known Witches’ Sabbath paintings from 1789 and 1820-23, the latter also known as The Great He-Goat.

    Writing at the same time as Goethe, the great German folklorist Jacob Grimm also associates a witches’ gathering with Walpurgisnacht.

    “At the end of the Hilss, as you near the Duier (Duinger) wood, is a mountain very high and bare, … whereon it is given out that witches hold their dance on Walpurgis night, even as on Mt. Brocken in the Harz.” [7]

    While Goethe’s Faust was composed over 150 years after Saftleven’s A Witches’ Sabbath, the legend of Faust far predates Goethe and was extremely popular in Saftleven’s time. The earliest mention of Faust is found in the early 1500’s, conceivably even based on an actual person. [8] The legend continues to grow and evolve throughout the 16th and early 17th century.

    Early stories of Faust characterize him as a debase charlatan, sometimes even a foul necromancer in league with the Devil. The basic moral premise seems to be a condemnation of the pursuit of secular human knowledge at the expense of one’s immortal soul, the abandonment of religious Protestantism in pursuit of worldly spiritual corruption, also known at the height of the Protestant Reformation as Catholicism. In the second half of the 1500’s and early 1600’s, the legend was widely published throughout Europe, including the earliest Dutch and Flemish versions in 1592. [8]

    As so many Dutch and Flemish paintings at this time are allegorical, Cornelis Saftleven’s A Witches’ Sabbath is rife for interpretation. [9] Is it a straightforward depiction of the horrors of pagan witchcraft painted at a time when witches were still being hanged and burned at the stake? Is the Walpurgisnacht narrative from the legend of Faust being exploited as an allegory preaching against the seductive pitfalls of sin and worldliness? Is it a Protestant jab at Catholic orthodoxy and corruption? Or maybe a Catholic jab at the Protestant Reformation? Or maybe even a Protestant jab at the Catholic Counter-Reformation? Could the tome dragged across the earth be meant to suggest to the learned viewer the published legend of Faust, itself, rather than a witch’s spell book, as we suggested earlier? Although I still think it looks like a sofa cushion.

    Well, we’re left with many questions and only a handful of answers. Thankfully, things that go bump in the night continue to have a timeless appeal. So do be sure to seek out A Witches’ Sabbath next time you’re in the Art Institute of Chicago and enjoy the creepy crawlies all to yourself.

    Thanks for tuning in to the Ancient Art Podcast. If you enjoyed our brief discussion of A Witches’ Sabbath, I hope you’ll head on over to where you can get the full episode with a much deeper treatment of the subject. If you dig the podcast, be sure to “like” us on Facebook at and give us a nice 5-star rating on iTunes. You can follow me on Twitter @lucaslivingston and can subscribe to the podcast on YouTube, iTunes, and Vimeo, where you’ll hopefully give us a good rating and leave you comments. You can also email your questions and comments to me at or use the online form at Thanks for tuning in and see you next time on the Ancient Art Podcast.

    ©2013 Lucas Livingston,


    [1] “SAFTLEVEN, Cornelis.” Benezit Dictionary of Artists. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 11, 2013.

    [2] Wolfgang Schulz. “Saftleven.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 11, 2013.

    [3] Also known as The Triumph of Death.

    [4] “Halloween.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013, accessed 13 October 2013.

    [5] “Walpurgis, n.”. OED Online. September 2013. Oxford University Press. Accessed October 13, 2013.

    [6] Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. Faust. Part I. 1808. trans. Philip Wayne. Penguin Classics, 1949-1959.

    [7] Jacob Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, Volume 4, 1835, trans. from the 4th ed. with notes and appendix by James Steven Stallybrass, London: George Bell and Sons, 1882, p. 1620.

    [8] “Faust.” 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 10, Wikisource 1911 encyclopedia project, accessed 12 October 2013. See also “Faust.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013, accessed 13 October 2013.

    [9] Ford-Wille, Clare. “Flemish art.” The Oxford Companion to Western Art. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 19, 2013.

    See the Photo Gallery for detailed photo credits.


    Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky (1839-1881), Night on Bald Mountain,

    Special thanks to:
    The Art Institute of Chicago
    Cornelis Saftleven, A Witches’ Sabbath
    Photography © The Art Institute of Chicago
    Used with permission.

    Creepy closing theme music courtesy of The Freesound Project, created by the following artists, and remixed by Lucas Livingston:
    DJ Chronos, Horror Drone 001-006 (ID’s: 52134, 52135, 52136, 52137, 52138, 52139)
    DJ Chronos, Suspense 001, 004-015, 017 (ID’s: 56885, 56886, 56887, 56888, 56889, 56890, 56891, 56892, 56893, 56894, 56895, 56896, 56897)
    Sea Fury, Monster (ID: 48662)
    Sea Fury, Monster 2 (ID: 48673)
    digenisnikos, scream3 (ID: 44260)
    thanvannispen, scream_group_women (ID: 30279)
    rutgermuller, Haunting Music 1 ( (ID: 51243)

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    Hello fellow travelers and welcome back to the Ancient Art Podcast. I’m the astrolabe to your Copernicus, Lucas Livingston.

    Over the last year, the blogosphere had been lit up with oracular prophesies of heavenly bodies, namely the supposed comet of the century, Comet ISON. Discovered on September 21, 2012, comet C/2012 S1, better known as Comet ISON, got its popular name after the place of its discovery, the International Scientific Optical Network (ISON) in Russia. Calculations of its trajectory predicted early on that ISON was destined to be one of the most spectacular comets visible by earthlings in a long while. Either that or it would be a colossal dud … or something in between. (Yeah, thanks for narrowing it down, astronomers!)

    ISON received a whole heckuva lot of coverage leading up to the grand show. One interesting thing about ISON is that it had never before been witnessed by eyes from Earth. It’s a new comet, having never made the trip to the inner Solar System. And this unprecedented journey for ISON proved tragically fatal. On Thursday, November 28, 2013, as millions of Americans were indulging in their Thanksgiving Day feasts, Comet ISON took its closest approach around the Sun and blew up. So, as it turned out, those who predicted this would be the comet of the century, a dud, or something in between were spot on. If you want to learn more about the late Comet ISON from various astronomy blogs and podcasts, I’ve gathered a few references in the footnotes to the transcript for this episode at [1]

    While ISON was only making its first approach to the Sun, humanity has been gazing at the stars and other celestial phenomena for ages. And comets are no strangers to past civilizations. In the Classical World we find comets being interpreted as both harbingers of disaster and portents of fortune. And they sometimes found their way into the arts. In Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, we hear that a comet appeared for seven days shortly after the assassination of Julius Caesar. We know now that this was in July of 44 BC, four months after his death and coincidentally during his birth month. [2] This apparition of convenient timing was interpreted by the Roman people as a sign that their emperor had ascended to heaven to be among the gods. The cult of Julius Caesar grew and the Temple of the Divine Julius (Divus Iulius) was built in 42 BC and dedicated in 29 BC by his successor Augustus Caesar. [3] Coins minted in the years 19 and 18 BC during Augustus’s reign depict the handsome, young Augustus Caesar on one side, and on the other a shining, eight-pointed star with a distinct, fiery comet’s tail complete with the inscription “DIVVS IVLIVS” or “Divine Julius.” If you want to learn more about Caesar’s comet from the ancient authors, themselves, click on the transcript for this episode at [4]

    Nearly a century earlier, the sighting of a comet in the birth-year of Mithridates VI of Pontus (135 or 134 BC) and another comet in the year of his coronation (120 or 119) were said to have been heavenly portents foretelling his future greatness. This coin in the Art Institute of Chicago, minted during the king’s reign in the year 86 or 85 BC, shows a youthful portrait of the king on one side and a curtseying image of the winged horse Pegasus on the other. And nestled behind Pegasus is a depiction of one of Mithridates’s prophetic comets. There’s a fascinating paper by John Ramsey in the 1999 Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, which explores the theory that Mithridates adopted the Pegasus as something of a personal emblem, because it was within the constellation Pegasus where the prophetic birth comet had been observed. [5]

    Hands down the most famous comet to modern observers is Halley’s Comet … well, at least until that unknown one out there with our name on it touches down. Halley’s Comet is so well known today because of its reliable predictability and frequent appearance, grazing past the earth and sun every 75 years or so. Its last appearance was in 1986 and it’s slated to return in 2061. Its prior appearance in 1910 was highly celebrated in the arts and the media. Astronomers at the University of Chicago Yerkes Observatory had just discovered that the earth would be passing through the comet’s debris cloud of poisonous cyanogen gas, which issued something of an end of the world, doomsday, hysteria among many. And, of course, souvenir peddlers didn’t fail to capitalize on this hysteria. [6]

    Halley’s Comet gets its name from Edmond Halley, who, in 1705, using Newtonian physics, accurately predicted that the comet seen in 1682 would return in 1758. That happened to be after his death, but when it returned as predicted, the comet was henceforth dubbed Halley’s Comet.

    Using computer models, the predictability of Halley’s Comet has allowed us to trace its appearances back through the Middle Ages into antiquity. While it wasn’t necessarily thought to be the same comet each time, it was recorded and variously interpreted across time and place. Perhaps its most famous rendering in art comes to us from the Bayeux Tapestry in Bayeux, France. Stretching almost 230 feet (70 meters) long, this linen cloth embroidered in wool commemorates the Norman invasion of England culminating in the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Here we see the comet soaring overhead as interested onlookers marvel at the ominous portent of disaster. Or so the Anglo-Saxons would have thought. To William the Conqueror and the Norman invaders of England, things turned out quite well. Interestingly, the fiery body with its curious geometric tail is labeled in the Latin inscription as a star. Or it could be the first ever recorded sighting of a Corellian Corvette from the planet Alderaan.

    Comet Halley also makes a possible appearance as the Star of Bethlehem in Giotto’s Adoration of the Magi from circa 1305. Just four years earlier in 1301 Halley’s Comet soared across Giotto’s Italian sky.

    We need to leave our comfort zone of Classical antiquity to find the most meticulous of astronomical records. Babylonian and Chinese documents record appearances of Halley’s Comet in 87 and 164 BC. Chinese records let us push back our earliest know sighting even further to 240 BC. To shake up the establishment, however, a July 2010 article in the Journal of Cosmology by Doctors Daniel Graham and Eric Hintz, makes a strong case for an Ancient Greek sighting of Halley’s Comet in 466 BC. [7]

    This shouldn’t steal any thunder away from China, though. A fascinating discovery from Mawangdui, China in 1978 shows us just how meticulously ancient Chinese observers studied these celestial phenomena. The 4th century Comet Atlas meticulously catalogues a myriad of different comet formations. To the untrained eye, these sketches may seem like imaginary fantasy, but the late, great astronomer Carl Sagan, among others, confirmed the amazingly strong similarity between the ancient Chinese illustrations and modern comet photography [8].

    Curiously, if you look closely at the Chinese Comet Atlas, you’ll note in this section that the first illustration on the left bears a striking resemblance to the swastika. The swastika will perhaps be forever damned in modern consciousness by its association with history’s dark chapter of the Third Reich and the Nazi Party, but we must try to step back and remind ourselves that it’s an ancient and originally positive, auspicious symbol. It’s also a global symbol, having appeared independently in visual culture across the world. To the Navajo of America it’s a sacred symbol of healing. [9] In Japan, the swastika, or manji, is a symbol of longevity and was even adopted by the famous woodblock print artist Hokusai as part of his artist name. We find the swastika across the cultures of Eurasia stretching back as far as prehistoric times in Neolithic rock art. A quick trip to the US Holocaust Museum website tells us that word swastika comes from the Sanskrit “svastika” meaning “good fortune” or “well-being.” [10]

    One wonders how populations across the globe with no perceivable contact would have been independently inspired to produce the same geometric design in their art. So often visual inspiration for early peoples comes from the natural world … the earth and sea around us, plants and animals, and the sky above … the sun, the moon, planets, and stars, and most distinctly, comets, appearing spontaneously and briefly in the heavens and visible across the globe to most of the world’s inhabitants. If a comet can appear as a swastika in the sky, as evidenced by the Chinese Comet Atlas, it’s unsurprising that this peculiar phenomenon would be recorded by witnesses the world over.

    The swastika is certainly a curious shape for a comet, though. The idea is that we’re looking at a comet more or less from behind moving away from earth toward the sun. As comets are heated by the sun, streams of vapor escape, which produce the signature comet tail. Comets can easily have more than one tail, as we see in the many different designs in the Comet Atlas. Imagine a four-tailed comet seen from behind with a little bit of a spin or rotation. Theoretically, this would give us a somewhat softened version of the swastika. Well, if you don’t take my word for it, I encourage you to read the interesting article “The astronomical origins of the swastika motif” by Fernando Coimbra. You’ll find a link to this article, more on the Chinese comet atlas, and other references for further study at [11]

    As we began with the contemporary, so do we conclude. To wrap up, another celestial body worthy of inclusion here, while not a comet, is the asteroid Apophis. Apophis caused something of a stir after its discovery in 2004 when initial calculations indicated a small chance that it could impact Earth in 2029. [12] I’m compelled to imagine that its finders chose the dubious name Apophis, heralding its ignominious parallel to the Egyptian demon serpent of chaos and destruction. But no, apparently they’re just Stargate fans. [13]

    Refined calculations and observations eliminated the risk of impact in 2029. For a while, though, there remained a risk that when Apophis passes us in 2029 the gravitational nudge of the Earth would set it on a collision course with Earth in 2036. Rest assured, though, friendly listeners, that this probability is known now to be minimal. [12]

    So next time you’re out on a clear night, when you spy with your eye to the starlit sky, consider the legends and tales our ancient ancestors shared gazing upon those same celestial objects and ponder the myriad of inspirations our cosmic neighbors had upon our visual culture.

    Thanks for tuning in to the Ancient Art Podcast. If you dig the podcast, be sure to “like” us on Facebook at and give us a nice 5-star rating on iTunes. You can follow me on Twitter @lucaslivingston and can subscribe to the podcast on YouTube, iTunes, and Vimeo, where you’ll hopefully give us a good rating and leave you comments. You can also email your questions and comments to me at or use the online form at Thanks for tuning in and see you next time on the Ancient Art Podcast.

    ©2014 Lucas Livingston,


    [1] References on Comet ISON:

    Phil Plait. “12 Cool Facts about Comet ISON.”

    The 365 Days of Astronomy, the daily podcast of the International Year of Astronomy 2009 – Weekly Space Hangout – Comet ISON Special. November 8, 2013.

    The 365 Days of Astronomy, the daily podcast of the International Year of Astronomy 2009 – Cosmic Perspective Radio – Brother Guy Consolmagno. November 28, 2013.

    The 365 Days of Astronomy, the daily podcast of the International Year of Astronomy 2009 – Astronomy Cast Ep. 324 – Sun Grazers. December 9, 2013.

    [2] John T. Ramsey and A. Lewis Licht, The Comet of 44 BC and Caesar’s Funeral Games, Scholars Press, 1997.

    [3] James Grout, “Temple of the Divine Julius,” Encyclopaedia Romana. Retrieved February 11, 2014.

    [4] Quotes from primary sources on Caesar’s Comet:

    “Rome is the only place in the whole world where there is a temple dedicated to a comet; it was thought by the late Emperor Augustus to be auspicious to him, from its appearing during the games which he was celebrating in honour of Venus Genetrix, not long after the death of his father Cæsar, in the College which was founded by him. He expressed his joy in these terms: ‘During the very time of these games of mine, a hairy star was seen during seven days, in the part of the heavens which is under the Great Bear. It rose about the eleventh hour of the day, was very bright, and was conspicuous in all parts of the earth. The common people supposed the star to indicate, that the soul of Cæsar was admitted among the immortal Gods; under which designation it was that the star was placed on the bust which was lately consecrated in the forum.’ This is what he proclaimed in public, but, in secret, he rejoiced at this auspicious omen, interpreting it as produced for himself; and, to confess the truth, it really proved a salutary omen for the world at large.”

    Pliny the Elder, The Natural History, trans. John Bostock, M.D., F.R.S., H.T. Riley, Esq., B.A., Book 2, Chapter 23. Accessed 20 January 2014.

    “LXXXVIII. He died in the fifty-sixth year of his age, and was ranked amongst the Gods, not only by a formal decree, but in the belief of the vulgar. For during the first games which Augustus, his heir, consecrated to his memory, a comet blazed for seven days together, rising always about eleven o’clock; and it was supposed to be the soul of Caesar, now received into heaven: for which reason, likewise, he is represented on his statue with a star on his brow. The senate-house in which he was slain, was ordered to be shut up, and a decree made that the ides of March should be called parricidal, and the senate should never more assemble on that day.”

    C. Suetonius Tranquillus, The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Volume 01: Julius Caesar by Suetonius, Project Gutenberg. Accessed 20 January 2014.

    “‘…Meanwhile transform the soul, which shall be reft from this doomed body, to a starry light, that always god-like Julius may look down in future from his heavenly residence upon our Forum and our Capitol.’
    “Jupiter hardly had pronounced these words, when kindly Venus, although seen by none, stood in the middle of the Senate-house, and caught from the dying limbs and trunk of her own Caesar his departing soul. She did not give it time so that it could dissolve in air, but bore it quickly up, toward all the stars of heaven; and on the way, she saw it gleam and blaze and set it free. Above the moon it mounted into heaven, leaving behind a long and fiery trail, and as a star it glittered in the sky.”

    P. Ovidius Naso, Metamorphoses, Book 15, Card 745, trans. Brookes More, 1922. Accessed 20 January 2014.

    [5] Ramsey, John T. “Mithridates, the Banner of Ch’ih-Yu, and the Comet Coin.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, Vol. 99 (1999), pp. 197-253.

    [6] Comets in History(Does Ignorance Rule?) ©1999, University of Wisconsin, Board of Regents. Accessed 8 February 2014.

    Josh Sokol. HubbleSite – ISONblog – Great Moments in Comet History: Comet Halley, 1910. 30 August 2013. Accessed 8 February 2014.

    [7] Graham, Daniel W., Ph.D., and Eric Hintz, Ph.D., “An Ancient Greek Sighting of Halley’s Comet?” Journal of Cosmology, v. 9 (2010), 2130-2136. Accessed 8 February 2014.

    [8] Coimbra, Fernando, Ph.D., “The Sky on the Rocks: Cometary Images in Rock Art,” Quaternary and Prehistory Group, Centre of Geosciences.

    [9] Aigner, Dennis J. (2000). The Swastika Symbol in Navajo Textiles. Laguna Beach, California: DAI Press. ISBN 0-9701898-0-X.

    Dottie Indyke. “The History of an Ancient Human Symbol.” April 4, 2005. Originally from The Wingspread Collector’s Guide to Santa Fe, Taos and Albuquerque, Volume 15.

    [10] United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. “History of the Swastika.” Holocaust Encyclopedia. Accessed on 7 February 2014.

    [11] References on the Chinese Comet Atlas:

    Coimbra, Fernando, Ph.D., “The astronomical origins of the swastika motif,” Proceedings of the International Colloquium – The intellectual and  spiritual expressions of non-literate peoples, 2011, Atelier, Capo di Ponte: 78-90.

    “Han Dynasty silk comet atlas,” China International Travel Service Limited. Retrieved February 11, 2014.

    [12] References on Asteroid Apophis:

    Neil Degrass Tyson, Alan Alda, Kristen Schaal, Scott Adsit, Eugene Mirman, StarTalk Radio – Live at the Bell House (Part 1). September 15, 2011.

    “Predicting Apophis’ Earth Encounters in 2029 and 2036,” NASA Near Earth Object Program. Last updated April 13, 2014 as of date retrieved: February 9, 2014.

    Bill Cooke, “Will Earth break up 2004 MN4?” Astronomy Magazine, February 10, 2005. Retrieved February 9, 2014.

    Bill Cooke, “2004 MN4: swing and a miss,” Astronomy Magazine, December 27, 2004. Retrieved February 9, 2014.

    Ian O’Neill, “Asteroid Apophis Just Got Supersized,” Discovery News, January 9, 2013. Retrieved February 9, 2014.

    [13] Darren Sumner, “Scientists: Apophis could destroy Earth in 2036,” Gateworld: Your Complete Guide to Stargate, February 10, 2011. Retrieved February 9, 2014.

    Bill Cooke, “Asteroid Apophis set for a makeover,” Astronomy Magazine, August 18, 2005. Retrieved 8 October 2009.

    See the Photo Gallery for detailed photo credits.


    Gustav Theodore Holst (1874-1934)
    The Planets, op. 32 (Mars, the Bringer of War)
    US Air Force Band

    David William Lamont
    Corellian CR90E – C
    Used with permission

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    Hi friends. This is Lucas Livingston. As you may know, the Ancient Art Podcast is a labor of love with a staff of one and a budget of zero. If you enjoy the podcast and want to see it continue, I encourage you to consider offering a donation. Whatever you think the podcast has been worth to you over the years. Whether it’s $1 or more, your donations help me pay for web hosting, bandwidth, and “keepin’ it real.” Just visit and click on the “Donate” button. Another way to help is if you’d please consider giving the Ancient Art Podcast a juicy 5-star rating in iTunes, write some nice comments, and give it a big thumbs up in YouTube. Thanks for tuning in and thanks for your support.

    Greetings friends and welcome back to the Ancient Art Podcast. I’m the kibble to your bits, Lucas Livingston. Dogs in their myriad of pedigrees are so integrated with our modern society that it’s easy to overlook how integral dogs were to ancient civilizations. The artistic, archaeological, and literary records of our ancestors can shed some light on their trusty companions and might even make the ancient world seem just a little bit more human to us. “Human,” sure. “Humane?” Well, let’s see about that.

    In this episode, we’ll touch on just one example of canines in ancient art, but conceivably one of the most popular, the Colima dog of ancient West Mexico. But don’t fret, canine lovers, as I have future episodes already in the oven that sink their teeth into our canine companions from ancient China and the Greco-Roman World. Why all the culinary metaphors? Well, this leads us into our story.

    Colima hairless dog (AIC)This happy, pudgy pup in the Art Institute of Chicago is an exemplary specimen on one of the most frequently occurring examples of canines in ancient art, the ceramic Colima dog. Looking at this dog, with its rotund, squat body and stubby legs, you may be reasonably safe in speculating that it didn’t serve as a guard dog or a hunting dog. In fact there aren’t too many jobs a dog of this sort could have had in real life other than perhaps a friendly companion or as the main course slathered in barbecue sauce with a side of corn bread.

    Insensitive and appalling as that may seem to dog enthusiasts today, dog was the daily special on the menu throughout ancient Mesoamerica. [1] Small to mid-sized hairless dog breeds are found in multiple ancient and modern cultures across the Americas. While these dogs served a variety of roles, livestock was indeed among them. And it can actually make sense, when you think about it. Unlike in the old world across the pond, where we find sheep, cattle, pig, goat, chicken, and many other domesticated sources of animal protein, in Mexico and Central and South America dogs are pretty much the only indigenous domesticated source of protein. [2] And the popularity of the animal manifests in the arts.

    Dog Effigy Vessel (Walters)Dog Effigy (Walters)In the ancient west Mexican Colima culture of about 2,000 years ago, we find ceramic dog figures in 75-90% of the shaft tombs. [3] The body type reflected in the Art Institute’s example would seem ideal for maximum protein yield for minimum calorie investment. You might call it something like a “designer pig.”

    Colima dog sculptures may have been popular funerary effigies as an offering of food for the deceased’s journey in the underworld. (I should note that I’m showing remarkable restraint by not including an image of a Colima sculpture of roasted dog on a serving platter. [4]) Yet the Colima dog must have been regarded as more than just a food source. Dog with Human Mask (LACMA)Surreal images of dogs waltzing, wearing turtle and armadillo shells, and with human-faced masks indicate a symbolic and spiritual significance. [5] Myths and legends of dogs abound in Mesoamerican cultures, including the predominant belief that dogs served as guides for the soul in the afterlife. [6] Legends tell us of a spirit dog that the recently deceased would encounter. It’s said that you should take hold of the dog’s tail so it can shepherd you across a body of water into the hereafter. [7] A central Mexican legend says that if you treat your dog right in life, it will meet you in death as a guide. [8] Another legend of central west Mexican coastal culture informs us that a snarling dog will meet you in afterlife, but it’s easily pacified with a few tortillas, so tortillas are in fact a common burial good in this culture. [9]

    Toy Xoloitzcuintli puppyThe Peruvian and Mexican hairless breeds today come in toy, miniature, and standard sizes. [10] The Mexican hairless, or Xoloitzcuintli, has even been making a splash lately at the Westminster dog show. [11] The name Xoloitzcuintli is variously translated from the Aztec language, including “strangely formed dog.” [12] It’s also associated with the Aztec god Xolotl, god of fire and death, and “itzcuintli,” Aztec for “dog.” XolotlXolotl is the brother of Quetzalcoatl and sometimes appears as a dog-headed man. At a time when human diversity was embraced differently, Xolotl was also the god of deformities, hence the association with the curious hairless breed.

    Full disclosure, though, I have to confess that our discussion here of the Colima dog and Xoloitzcuintli is entirely selfish, motivated by homage for my own little Xolo pup, Sputnik. So while his ancestors may have been couriers of the dearly departed or finger-licking comfort food, I think they would smile on his upgraded social status, having evolved from fork to friend.

    Sputnik! Sputnik! We play now, yes? Sputnik! Drunk puppy

    Thanks for tuning in. If you want to do some more digging on the topic of dogs in ancient Mesoamerica, check out and look in the footnotes to the transcript. There you’ll also find a gallery for images used in this episode with their sources and credits. You should also visit my Flickr site (just click on the Flickr logo at where you’ll find photo sets dedicated to each of the podcast episodes and a plethora of other photos I’ve taken over the years, including when the Art Institute of Chicago sent me along as a study leader on trips to Egypt, Jordan, Greece, and Turkey.

    If you dig the Ancient Art Podcast, be sure to “like” us on Facebook at and give us a nice 5-star rating on iTunes. You can follow me on Twitter @lucaslivingston and can subscribe to the podcast on YouTube, iTunes, and Vimeo, where you’ll hopefully give us a good rating and leave you comments. You can also email your questions and comments to me at or use the online form at Thanks for tuning in and see you next time on the Ancient Art Podcast.

    ©2014 Lucas Livingston,


    [1] Jarrett A. Lobell, Eric A. Powell and Paul Nicholson, “More than Man’s Best Friend,” Archaeology, Vol. 63, No. 5 (September/October 2010), p. 26-35.

    [2] See note 1. Archaeology (September/October 2010), sidebar: “Dogs as Food,” p. 32.

    [3] Heritage of Power: Ancient Sculpture from West Mexico: The Andrall E. Pearson Family Collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 67.

    Jacki Gallagher, Companions of the Dead: Ceramic Tomb Sculptures from Ancient West Mexico, p. 41.

    [4] Ancient West Mexico: Art and Archaeology of the Unknown Past, p. 212, fig. 29.

    [5] Ancient West Mexico: Art and Archaeology of the Unknown Past, p. 185, 211.

    Jacki Gallagher, Companions of the Dead: Ceramic Tomb Sculptures from Ancient West Mexico, fig. 69.

    [6] Ancient West Mexico: Art and Archaeology of the Unknown Past, p. 272.

    [7] See note 1. Archaeology (September/October 2010), sidebar: “Guardians of Souls,” p. 35.

    [8] Ancient West Mexico: Art and Archaeology of the Unknown Past, p. 186.

    [9] Heritage of Power: Ancient Sculpture from West Mexico: The Andrall E. Pearson Family Collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 66.

    [10] The Westminster Kennel Club | Breed Information: Xoloitzcuintli. Accessed 13 May, 2014.

    [11] Westminster Dog Show: Introducing The Xoloitzcuintli. NPR. Accessed 13 May, 2014.

    [12] Ancient West Mexico: Art and Archaeology of the Unknown Past, p. 272.

    See the Photo Gallery for detailed photo credits.


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    Avast ye scurrilous scaliwags! Welcome to me piratey Ancient Art Podcast. I’m yer crotchety captain, Bottoms Up Livingston. On ship’s deck we have the bounteous booty of the finest goblet from the sea swept island of Vulci, the cup of the god of wine himself, twice born of two mothers, master of madness, Dionysus. And with this cup comes the tall tale of the time when Dionysus was besieged by an unlucky band of outlaw pirates.

    For some background on Dionysus, the ancient Greek god of wine, theater, ecstasy, and madness, check out episode 84, “The Birth of Dionysus,” at There we meet Dionysus’s parents, the god Zeus and mortal Semele. We learn of her untimely fate, and discover why among Dionysus’s many nicknames we call him the twice born god.

    Legends of the great god of wine and reverie are replete with suggestions of alcohol’s potent power as a transformative potion. One of my favorite tales of alcohol-induced magical metamorphosis is Dionysus and the Tyrrhenian pirates, which is beautifully rendered on an ancient Greek kylix wine cup, the so-called Dionysus Cup from around 540-530 BC by the master painter and potter Exekias.

    Interior of a black-figure kylix depicting Dionysus on a ship festooned with grapevines sailing among jumping dolphins
    The so-called Dionysus Cup
    By Exekias, ca. 540/530 BC
    Attic black-figure kylix; from Vulci
    Munchen Staatliche Antikensammlungen
    Photo by Matthias Kabel, wikimedia

    Although he was the son of Zeus and part of the Olympian pantheon, the Greeks often considered Dionysus to be somewhat foreign and exotic, like some rich kid sent abroad to boarding school for most of his youth and now he wears a beret and scarf indoors. The god’s taste for foreign fashion often makes him stand out in a crowd and in this case, that gets him into a bit of a pickle.

    Our earliest source for this fabulous legend of the god is the Homeric Hymn number 7, the hymn to Dionysus, from the 7th or 6th century BC. [1] We catch up with the Dionysus having gone for a pleasant stroll along the salty sea shore in the form of a handsome young man with rich, dark hair, dripping with exotic fineries and princely burgundy garb. Alas, a ruthless band of Tyrrhenian pirates sailing along shore happens upon the god and kidnaps him, believing him to be a wealthy prince, whom they could hold for ransom. A humorous detail added to the story some centuries later in Ovid’s Metamorphoses shares that Dionysus happens, unsurprisingly, to be punch drunk on wine at the time. “He seemed to reel, half-dazed with wine and sleep,” Ovid writes. [2] Once the pirates nab the god and escort him onto their ship, they seek to bind him to the ship’s mast. To their surprise, with uncanny magical ease the fetters fall away from the god’s hands and feet and he sits there with a wry smile in his dark eyes. Having at that moment the realization that their guest is not as he seems, the ship’s helmsman cries out to his mates: “Madmen! What god is this whom you have taken and bind, strong that he is? Not even the well-built ship can carry him. Surely this is either Zeus or Apollo who has the silver bow, or Poseidon, for he looks not like mortal men but like the gods who dwell on Olympus. Come, then, let us set him free upon the dark shore at once: do not lay hands on him, lest he grow angry and stir up dangerous winds and heavy squalls.” [1] His mates do not heed the warning and Dionysus unleashes his wrath as strange things are seen about them. Sweet, fragrant wine runs streaming throughout the pirates’ black ship. Vines dripping with clusters of grapes spread across the tops of the sails enveloping the ship while dark ivy blooming with flowers and berries entwines the ship’s mast.

    At this moment the ship’s crew finally recognizes their folly and deeply regrets not having heeded the prophetic words of their helmsman. Alas, it is entirely too late, for the god, himself, transforms into a dreadful lion and summons illusions of ferocious wild beasts: the leopard or panther, sacred to the god, and yes, quite literally lions, tigers, and bears. [3]

    As the beasts lunge, the terrified pirates promptly jump overboard into the sea’s cold embrace, but the god enjoys the last laugh as the pirates transform into dolphins upon striking the waves. Only the helmsman, who enjoyed the change of heart, is spared to tell this tale of the wrath of Dionysus.

    The interior of the Dionysus Cup reveals the larger-than-life, resplendent deity reclining within a ship, its unfurled sails catching full wind and mast festooned with vines and clusters of grapes raining wine on deck. Flitting about the scene, our poor brigands-turned-dolphins leap and dive within an imagined wine-dark Mediterranean backdrop.

    As with the “Circe cup,” which we looked at in episode 87 of the podcast about “Circe and Witchcraft in Ancient Greece,” we enjoy another playful visual treat on the Dionysus Cup. Here the exterior of the cup humorously bears the painted image of large glaring eyes. Playful cups of this sort are not entirely uncommon in the corpus of Greek ceramics and go by the modern connoisseur’s ingeniously descriptive designation of … wait for it … “eye cups.” While the drinker of wine holds the cup aloft to his lips, quaffing the intoxicating concoction, he seems to don a bestial mask like the Gorgon Medusa, whose gaze would petrify. Or perhaps more poignantly, if the stem becomes a snout and the handles the ears, the drinker then becomes a pig like Odysseus’s men transformed by Circe’s potent potion of wine. Go back and check out episode 87 again at for a refresher on Circe and the pig reference.

    We’ve repeatedly encountered the theme in ancient Greece of alcoholic intoxication as a magical means of metamorphosis into ignoble beasts. Episode 3’s donkey-headed rhyton cup, the aforementioned eye cups, and the MFA’s “Circe cup” offer readily accessible allusions to inebriation begetting transformation, while the tale of Dionysus and the pirates decorating the interior of the Dionysus Cup features a more restrained reference to intoxication’s metamorphic magic. The first of Dionysus’s phantasms is a wave of sweet wine that washes through the ship and drenches the pirates before they jump into the sea. Personally, I like to think more than a fair share of the wave of wine found its way down their throats. Because, after all, when you’re ticket is up and you’re going to go down fighting the god of wine, it might as well be in an alcohol induced stupor. But then, I don’t know. Is it fair to regard dolphins as the asses and swine of the sea?

    Thanks for tuning in to the Ancient Art Podcast. Check out for references, footnotes, and image credits for this episode. If you have anything to add to the conversation, you can add a comments there or on YouTube. You can get in touch with me directly at or on the web at If you enjoy the podcast, please consider sharing some fiscal love. Whether it’s the cost of a cup of coffee or more, your donations help keep this ship afloat on our odyssey sailing the wine-dark seas. Just click the donate button at And if you can’t donate a drachma, you can help the podcast by adding an iTunes review. Maybe it’ll even get you on the air, like Janscil, who wrote: “So pleased to have discovered this series of podcasts. The host combines discussions with images and references to collections in musuems both in the States and abroad. His style is direct and approachable: altogether a delight to experience. I’ve been haunting the “additional resources” on the website as well.”

    Thanks for listening. See you next time.


    [1] Anonymous. The Homeric Hymns and Homerica with an English Translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White. Homeric Hymns. Cambridge, MA.,Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1914.

    [2] Ovid, Metamorphoses 3.572ff. Translated by A. D. Melville (Oxford World’s Classics): “Brought to the beach a prize (or so he thought), discovered on this lonely spot, a boy, as pretty as a girl. He seemed to reel, half-dazed with wine and sleep, and almost failed to follow along.”

    [3] For the lion and bear, see Homeric Hymn 7. For tiger see Ovid Metamorphoses 3.572.


    Brave Pirates
    By Orchestra
    Licensed under Creative Commons

    The Precession of the Equinoxes in the Inverted Alps
    By Azureflux
    Licensed under Creative Commons

    I Dunno
    By grapes
    Featuring J Lang, Morusque
    Licensed under Creative Commons

    By Jack and the Pulpits
    Licensed under Creative Commons


    Homeric Hymn 7:
    “First of all sweet, fragrant wine ran streaming throughout all the black ship and a heavenly smell arose, so that all the seamen were seized with amazement when they saw it. And all at once a vine spread out both ways along the top of the sail with many clusters hanging down from it, and a dark ivy-plant twined about the mast, blossoming with flowers, and with rich berries growing on it; and all the thole-pins were covered with garlands. When the pirates saw all this, then at last they bade the helmsman to put the ship to land. But the god changed into a dreadful lion there on the ship, in the bows, and roared loudly: amidships also he showed his wonders and created a shaggy bear which stood up ravening, while on the forepeak was the lion glaring fiercely with scowling brows. And so the sailors fled into the stern and crowded bemused about the right-minded helmsman, until suddenly the lion sprang upon the master and seized him; and when the sailors saw it they leapt out overboard one and all into the bright sea, escaping from a miserable fate, and were changed into dolphins. But on the helmsman Dionysos had mercy and held him back and made him altogether happy, saying to him: ‘Take courage, good […]; you have found favour with my heart. I am loud-crying (eribromos) Dionysos whom Kadmos’ daughter Semele bare of union with Zeus.'”
    Homeric Hymn 7 to Dionysus (trans. Evelyn-White) c. 7th to 4th B.C.

    Another account of the pirates:

    Philostratus the Elder, Imagines 1.19 in Elder Philostratus, Younger Philostratus, Callistratus. Translated by Fairbanks, Arthur. Loeb Classical Library Volume 256. London: William Heinemann, 1931.

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    Hishikawa Moronobu's Flower-Viewing Party with Crest-Bearing Curtain, 1676–1689
    Hishikawa Moronobu
    Flower-Viewing Party with Crest-Bearing Curtain, from the series Flower Viewing at Ueno
    Japanese, 1676–1689
    Art Institute of Chicago, 1925.1689

    In this excerpt from my lecture on the Art Institute’s recent special exhibition Painting the Floating World: Ukiyo-e Masterpieces from the Weston Collection, I set the stage for what was Japan’s Floating World culture during the Edo Period of the Tokugawa Shogunate, 1615-1868. We touch on the origin of the term, the cultural climate in which it rose the popularity, and how the floating world psyche was expressed in Japan’s visual arts at the time.


    Hishikawa Moronobu
    Flower-Viewing Party with Crest-Bearing Curtain, from the series Flower Viewing at Ueno
    Japanese, 1676–1689
    Art Institute of Chicago, 1925.1689