Hecate Fighting the Giant, Pergamon Altar

Hecate Fighting the Giant, Pergamon Altar


Hecate

Hecate or Hekate [a] is a goddess in ancient Greek religion and mythology, most often shown holding a pair of torches or a key [1] and in later periods depicted in triple form. She is variously associated with crossroads, entrance-ways, night, light, magic, witchcraft, knowledge of herbs and poisonous plants, ghosts, necromancy, and sorcery. [2] [3] Her earliest appearance in literature was in Hesiod's Theogony in the 8th century BCE [4] as a goddess of great honor with domains in sky, earth, and sea. Her place of origin is debated by scholars, but she had popular followings amongst the witches of Thessaly [5] and an important sanctuary among the Carian Greeks of Asia Minor in Lagina. [5]

Hecate was one of several deities worshipped in ancient Athens as a protector of the oikos (household), alongside Zeus, Hestia, Hermes, and Apollo. [6] In the post-Christian writings of the Chaldean Oracles (2nd–3rd century CE) she was also regarded with (some) rulership over earth, sea, and sky, as well as a more universal role as Savior (Soteira), Mother of Angels and the Cosmic World Soul. [7] [8] Regarding the nature of her cult, it has been remarked, "she is more at home on the fringes than in the center of Greek polytheism. Intrinsically ambivalent and polymorphous, she straddles conventional boundaries and eludes definition." [9]


The Discovery and History of the Great Altar

In the 2nd century AD the Roman schoolteacher Lucius Ampelius wrote a concise history of humanity as a textbook for one of his students. In it, he said that in the city of Pergamon there was a great marble altar which depicted a battle of giants.

Until the 19th century, this was virtually all that was known about the great altar at Pergamon. The line in Lucius Ampelius’s liber memorialis was virtually forgotten and the altar was lost to history.

A few collectors and treasure hunters visited the region in the 1600s, taking pieces of the building home to Britain. Long predating modern archaeological methods, they left little documentation about where the relief carvings were found and the pieces were largely ignored.

In 1871 a German engineer in the region saw the historical value in the ancient Greek city, and was dismayed to see local Turks using the site as a source of building material. The people of Bergama had been making use of this artificial quarry for centuries, using stone from the ancient acropolis as early as the 7th century when they built fortifications against invading armies from the south.

Hoping to see the ruins of ancient Pergamon protected, the engineer asked for assistance from historians.

It took a few years for the importance of the site to be recognized. Once someone connected the marble found there, which locals had been burning to make lyme for their own construction, to the line from Lucius Ampelius, archaeological excavations began in earnest.

The newly-formed German Empire was eager to distinguish itself by establishing the type of cultural exhibits that were renowned in Britain and France. They would not be disappointed by what they found at Pergamon.

Over the next several years the archaeologists working at Pergamon would uncover the remains of a truly monumental building, as well as thousands of marble fragments that were painstakingly pieced back together to show impressive friezes and relief sculptures.

The altar was reconstructed in a new museum in Berlin. While historians admitted that removing the building from its original site was problematic, they were motivated by both a desire to save the site from further destruction and to establish their nation as a cultural center.

The result of the rebuilding of the altar was an enormous and impressive structure. The nearly square building was enormous, with the front stairway alone measuring over 20 meters wide.

The sheer scale of the altar was impressive, especially considering that it would have been only one building as part of a larger acropolis complex, but the artwork reconstructed after its excavation has become the most iconic feature of the building.

The outside of the altar features the second longest continuous frieze known from ancient architecture, rivaled only by the famous Parthenon of Athens, wrapping a total of 113 meters around the building. It depicts the great battle between the gods and giants known as the Gigantomachy.

All of the major gods and goddesses of the Greek pantheon appear in this epic battle scene, including several of the Titans. While many parts of the image are incomplete and damaged, more than enough remains to identify the gods shown.

They fight with their signature weapons and are joined by animals associated with them. Artemis, for example, shoots a giant with an arrow as her hunting dogs take down another.

The altar dates from the 2nd century BC, during the period known as the Hellenistic. Like most Hellenistic art, it focuses on realism and expressiveness rather than static ideals and rigid iconography.

In keeping with this style, the frieze from Pergamon features figures in movement and naturalistic poses even as it highlights their divine attributes. The giants have roiling serpent tails and the gods are shown in mid-stride or turning their bodies toward their opponents.

The interior art of the altar building is less complete and historians differ on the proper order to arrange sections of the carvings. The smaller and shallower frieze narrates the life of the hero Telephus, a son of Heracles and the legendary founding king of the region.

Additional sculptures adorned the roofline and possibly the interior of the building. While these figures have not been definitively identified, it is possible that they personified the cities of the Pergamene kingdom.

The altar of Pergamon was not a temple in itself, contrary to popular misconception. It functioned as just one part of a massive temple complex and was used as a site to give offerings, either burned sacrifices or libations, to the gods.

The site included both a temple and theater dedicated to Dionysus and a temple of Athena, which featured a library. The altar is generally assumed to have been dedicated to Athena, or to Zeus and Athena jointly, based on its location and orientation relative to her main temple.

Pergamon was not only the site of the great altar and its acropolis, however. A thriving center of Hellenistic art arose there, and the workshops that created many of the era’s other masterpieces were located in the city.

The famous statue of Laocoon and his sons, now in the Vatican, is thought to have come from Pergamon. In fact, many of the figures on the friezes there strongly resemble this famous work, which was already regarded as a wonder of artistry in its own time.

My Modern Interpretation

The Pergamene kingdom was founded less than a hundred years before the altar was built. The city had been ruled by the Seleucid dynasty, but broke free and established its own territories to the west.

Monumental architecture was used as a tool in the ancient world to show the strength and power of leaders and their kingdoms. This was especially true for younger dynasties like the Pergamenes, who had to compete with much older forces.

Athena’s sanctuary in Pergamon was built to commemorate the new kingdom’s defeat of the Seleucids, and it was long believed that the altar was similarly constructed to celebrate a military event. Recent scholarship has suggested, however, that the altar did not honor a particular victory, but rather the strength of the kingdom in general.

Many buildings created to honor a specific event make reference to that event in their imagery. Even in legendary and mythological scenes, the enemies of the gods are shown as defeated foreign troops, for example.

This kind of imagery, however, appears to be largely absent in the friezes from the altar of Pergamon. While there do seem to be some contemporary references, such as one of the giants carrying a Celtic-style weapon, they are much less numerous and obvious than they would be if the work celebrated a specific victory over the Celts.


Contents

Early sources provide glimpses of other versions of the story from the one that Apollodorus tells. Possibly Alcyoneus was not originally a Giant, but simply one of Heracles' many monstrous opponents. [5]

Iconography Edit

Depictions of Heracles fighting Alcyoneus, named by inscription, are found on several sixth century BC pots (e.g., Lourve F208). The earliest extant representation of their battle probably occurs on a metope from the first temple dedicated to Hera at Foce del Sele, which shows Heracles holding a large figure by the hair, while stabbing him with a sword. Such a scene is also depicted on several shield-band reliefs from Olympia (B 1801, B 1010). [6]

A terracotta frieze (Basel BS 318) and the sixth century BC pots show a reclining Alcyoneus. And on some of the pots Alcyoneus is apparently sleeping, with a winged Hypnos nearby (Melborne 1730.4, Getty 84.AE.974, Munich 1784, Toledo 52.66). These depictions suggest the existence of a story in which Heracles takes advantage of a sleeping opponent. [7]

The presence of cattle on several of the pots suggests that the story also involved cattle in some way (e.g., Tarquinia RC 2070, Taranto 7030). This last pot depicts Heracles, with a headlock perhaps dragging his opponent, which might be a representation of Heracles dragging Alcyoneus out of his homeland. [8]

Literature Edit

The earliest mentions of Alcyoneus in literature, are by the fifth century BC poet Pindar. According to Pindar, Heracles and Telamon were traveling through Phlegra, where they encountered Alcyoneus, whom Pindar describes as a "herdsman . huge as a mountain", [9] and a "great and terrible warrior". [10] A battle occurs in which Alcyoneus "laid low, by hurling a rock, twelve chariots and twice twelve horse-taming heroes who were riding in them", before finally being "destroyed" by the two heroes.

The participation of Telamon and other mortals in the battle, and the lack of mention of any of the gods, or other Giants, seem to imply that for Pindar, unlike apparently Apollodorus, the battle between Heracles and Alcyoneus was a separate event from the Gigantomachy. And in fact Pindar never actually calls Alcyoneus a Giant, although the description of him as "huge as a mountain", his use of a rock as a weapon, and the location of the battle at Phlegra, the usual site of the Gigantomachy, all suggest that he was. [11]

Scholia to Pindar tell us that Alcyoneus lived on the isthmus of Thrace and that he had stolen his cattle from Helios, causing the Gigantomachy, (Schol. Pindar Isthmian 6.47) and that Alcyoneus, one of the Giants, attacked Heracles, not in Thrace but at the Isthmus of Corinth, while the hero was returning with the cattle of Geryon, and that this was according to Zeus' plan because the Giants were his enemies (Schol. Pindar Nemean 4.43). The cattle shown on the sixth century pots, might thus represent either Alcyoneus' cattle stolen from Helios, or Heracles' cattle taken from Geryon. [12]

Alcyoneus is usually identified as the winged Giant battling Athena on the Gigantomachy frieze from the Pergamon Altar. [13]

An unascribed lyric fragment (985 PMG) calls the Giant "Phlegraian Alkyoneus of Pallene, the eldest of the Gigantes [Giants]". [14] Claudian has Alcyoneus buried under the volcanic Mount Vesuvius [15] while Philostratus says that the bones of Alcyoneus were considered a "marvel" by the people living near Vesuvius, where it was said that many Giants were buried. [16] The Suda says that Hegesander told of a myth in which Alcyoneus had seven daughters, the Alkyonides, who threw themselves into the sea when Alcyoneus died and were turned into birds, the Halcyons (kingfishers). [17]

The late fourth century or early fifth century AD Greek poet Nonnus, in his poem Dionysiaca, mentions Alcyoneus as one of the several Giants that Dionysus battles in the Gigantomachy. [18] Nonnus has Gaia set the Giants against Dionysus, promising Alcyoneus Artemis as his wife should the Giants subdue Dionysus. [19] Nonnus makes Alcyoneus nine cubits high, [20] and has him fight with mountains as weapons. [21]


Modern

Hecate is interpreted as a pre-patriarchal goddess by supporters of matriarchal theories. Thomas Lautwein (2009) sees her as an “earth and sun goddess”. According to this, Hecate is the embodiment of the hidden, dark, mysterious aspect of a pre-patriarchal earth goddess. Lautwein relates this aspect to the dark aspect of the sun, which, according to ancient belief, wandered underground through the underworld from west to east at night. Only later was this hidden, dark, mysterious aspect of the sun assigned to the moon.

In today's paganism ( neopaganism ), Hecate is considered the guardian of magical knowledge. She is often invoked in the original form described by Hesiod as the omnipotent helpful goddess. Her independence and her triad as a virgin, mature independent woman and old sage form the complement and the opposite of the mother aspect of the Great Goddess . Her active power as the sun goddess and her materialism as the earth goddess are the complement and the opposite of the passive and ideal aspect of moon goddesses.


Attributions

Hekate came to be associated with ghosts, infernal spirits, the dead and sorcery. Like the stone piles of Hermes—hermae placed at borders as a ward against danger—images of Hekate (who, like Artemis and Diana, is often referred to as a "liminal" goddess) were also placed at the gates of cities, and eventually domestic doorways. Over time, the association with keeping out evil spirits could have led to the belief that, if offended, Hekate could also allow the evil spirits in. Whatever the reasons, Hekate's power certainly came to be closely associated with sorcery.

Variations in interpretations of Hecate's role or roles can be traced in fifth-century Athens. In two fragments of Aeschylus she appears as a great goddess. In Sophocles and Euripides she is characterized as the mistress of witchcraft and the Keres.

In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, Hecate is called the "tender-hearted", a euphemism perhaps intended to emphasize her concern with the disappearance of Persephone, when she addressed Demeter with sweet words at a time when the goddess was distressed. She later became Persephone's minister and close companion in the Underworld. But Hecate was never fully incorporated among the Olympian deities.

The modern understanding of Hecate has been strongly influenced by syncretic Hellenistic interpretations. Many of the attributes she was assigned in this period appear to have an older basis. For example, in the magical papyri of Ptolemaic Egypt, she is called the 'she-dog' or 'bitch', and her presence is signified by the barking of dogs. In late imagery she also has two ghostly dogs as servants by her side. However, her association with dogs predates the conquests of Alexander the Great and the emergence of the Hellenistic world.

When Philip II laid siege to Byzantium she had already been associated with dogs for some time the light in the sky and the barking of dogs that warned the citizens of a night time attack, saving the city, were attributed to Hekate Lampadephoros. In gratitude the Byzantines erected a statue in her honor. Probably it was her epithet “φωσφόρος” -lightbearer- after which the straits of the Bosphorus were named, slightly corrupting her name. [11]

As a virgin goddess, she remained unmarried and had no regular consort, though some traditions named her as the mother of Scylla or Kirke, Medea, and Aigialeus.

Hekate assisted Demeter in her search for Persephone, guiding her through the night with flaming torches. After the mother-daughter reunion she became Persephone's minister and companion in Hades. Two metamorphosis myths describe the origins of her animal familiars: the black she-dog and the polecat (a mustelid house pet kept to hunt vermin). The bitch was originally the Trojan Queen Hekabe, who leapt into the sea after the fall of Troy and was transformed by the goddess into her familiar. The polecat was originally the witch Gale who was transformed into the beast to punish her for her incontinence. Other say it was Galinthias, the nurse of Alkmene, transformed by the angry Eileithyia, but received by Hekate as her animal.

Hekate was usually depicted in Greek vase painting as a woman holding twin torches. Sometimes she was dressed in a knee-length maiden's skirt and hunting boots, much like Artemis. In statuary Hekate was often depicted in triple form as a goddess of crossroads.

Hekate was identified with a number of other goddesses, including Artemis and Selene (Moon), the Arkadian Despoine, the sea-goddess Krataeis, the goddess of the Taurian Chersonese (of Skythia), the Kolkhian Perseis, and Argive Iphigenia, the Thracian goddesses Bendis and Kotys, Euboian Maira (the dog-star), Eleusinian Daeira and the Boiotian Nymphe Herkyna.

Goddess Hekate is associated with a device called “strophalos” or “Hekate’s wheel” about the actual shape of which there have been several speculations:

a. Michael Psellus, a Byzantine Neoplatonist speaks of a golden sphere, decorated throughout with symbols and whirled on an oxhide thong. He adds that such an instrument is called an iynx (hence "jinx"), but as for the significance says only that it is ineffable and that the ritual is sacred to Hekate.

b. Hekate is one of the most important figures in the so-called Chaldaean Oracles in fragment 194 is mentioned: "Labour thou around the Strophalos of Hecate. This appears to refer to a variant of the device mentioned by Psellus.

c. According to W. G. Arnott , most of the ancient literature deals with the Wrineck’s use in a piece of erotic magic in which a man or woman spread-eagled a (presumably dead) Wryneck and fastened it to a small four-spoked wheel which could then be whirled rapidly in alternate directions by attached strings while she or he chanted incantations designed to attract or bring back a loved one the wheel itself came to be termed an Iynx, and was often used on its own with either no bird attached or an imitation substituted and indeed the wheel concept came to be used as a metaphor for sexual magnetism or desire.

Greek writers provided various mythical explanations of the Wryneck’s connection with erotic magic. Pindar claims that the Wryneck wheel was invented by Aphrodite to help Jason win Medea. Callimachus says that Iynx was originally a nymph, a daughter of Echo, who Bewitched Zeus and as punishment was transformed by Hera into a Wryneck. Other writers made Iynx the daughter of Peitho, her crime that of luring Zeus into an affair with Io. Nicander has one of Pierus’ nine daughters punished for trying to rival the Muses by metamorphosis into an Iynx. The bird is at times figured on Greek vases and in Roman wall-paintings, always probably with its erotic connotations in mind. [12]

The word "jinx" might have originated in this cult object associated with Hekate.


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Hellenistic Greek Art Altar at Pergamon

2Pergamon rose to prominence during the years of the Greek empires division following the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. His short-lived empire was partitioned among his generals, with General Lysimachus inheriting the then-settlement of Pergamon and its wealth. Due largely to its strategic position along land and sea trading routes and in part to the wealth of the Attalid kings who ruled the kingdom, the city enjoyed centuries of prosperity that continued when it passed peacefully to Romes control in 133 B.C. From that point on, Pergamons fate was inextricably linked to that of Rome, and it rose and fell in tandem with the great Roman Empire.

Altar of Zeus (Pergamon, Turkey), c. 175 BCE

This high relief depicts a mythical battle between pre-Greek Titans and Greek Olympians. The subject was popular in Hellenistic art partly as a result of renewed political threats to Greek supremacy. But unlike the Classical version on the Parthenon metopes, that at Pergamon is full of melodrama, frenzy, and pathos. King Attalus I defeated the powerful Gauls, who invaded Pergamon in 238 BC. This victory made Pergamon a major political force. Later, under the rule of Eumenes II (197-c. 160 BC) the monumental altar dedicated to Zeus was built to proclaim the victory of Greek civilization over the barbarians.

Above: Sketched Reconstruction of the City of Pergamon

Under Attalus I (241197BC), they allied with Rome against Philip V of Macedon, during the first and second Macedonian Wars, and again under Eumenes II (197158BC), against Perseus of Macedon, during the Third Macedonian War. For support against the Seleucids, the Attalids were rewarded with all the former Seleucid domains in Asia Minor.

Polyeuktos. Demosthenes, Roman copy after a bronze original of c. 280 BCE, marble

This statue was one of several Athenian heroes opposed to the Macedonian rule of Athens that was set up in the agora, or marketplace, of the city. Demosthenes was forced by the Macedonians to flee Athens. When he reached the island of Poros, he drank poison rather than submit to the enemy. An inscription on the base of the sculpture reads: If your strength had equaled your resolution, Demosthenes, the Macedonian Ares [i.e. Alexander the Great] would have never ruled the Greeks.

Demosthenes life was beset by difficulties, including his financial hardship and a speech impediment. He was a serious stutterer as a young man, but he trained himself to become the greatest public speaker in Athens. His political enemies succeeded in having him exiled from Athens on a trumped-up charge of corruption. In Polyeuktos rendition, Demosthenes is an elderly, haggard man, with long, thin arms. His dejection shows on his face and an inner tension is conveyed by the agitation of his hands.

Thomas Struth. Berlin: Pergamon Museum, 2001 (detail of larger photograph)

In the Great Altar of Zeus erected at Pergamon, the Hellenistic taste for emotion, energetic movement, and exaggerated musculature is translated into relief sculpture. The two friezes on the altar celebrated the city and its superiority over the Gauls, who were a constant threat to the Pergamenes. Inside the structure, a small frieze depicted the legendary founding of Pergamon.

The term Gauls is misleading. Galati or Galations is how we should strictly describe them. They were groups of central European Celts who around 300 BCE began to migrate more or less down the course of the Danube and through the Balkan peninsula. Eventually they settled in an area uncomfortably close to Pergamum, an area which became known as Galatia. They are recorded as having attached the sanctuary of Delphi in 280-279 BCE. Though their aggression might be harnessed by hiring them as mercenaries, those Gauls troubled various Hellenistic kingdoms through most of the second century BCE. It appears that around 240-230 BCE Attalos I met them in battle in his territory.8Hellenistic art, especially in its late phase, reflects uncertainty and turmoil of the period. (By the end of the first century BCE, the Romans were in complete control of the Mediterranean world.) A writing movement pervades the entire design, down to the last lock of hair, linking the figures in a single continuous rhythm. This sense of unity restrains the violence of the struggle and keeps it- just barely- form exploding its architectural frame. Indeed, the action spills out onto the stairs, where several figures are locked in combat.

The victory of the gods is meant to symbolize Eumenes own victories. Such translations of history into mythology had been common in Greek art for a long time. But to place Eumenes in analogy with the gods themselves implies an exaltation of the ruler that is Oriental rather than Greek.

The snake helps the viewer to identify that the giant Alkyoneos (seen here) is battling with the Olympian goddess Athena. The snake aids Athena in her victory, similar to how serpents aid the Olympian gods (specifically Athena, according to some accounts) in the killing of Laocon, the Trojan priest.

Athena was often identified with snakes. Not only was the snake associated with wisdom (which was one of Athena's attributes), but snakes also served as the symbol for Erectheus, the mythical king of Athens. As the patron goddess of Athens, it makes sense that Athena would also be associated Erectheus (and Athens) through the snake symbol. Athena was depicted with a snake in the monumental "Athena Parthenos" statue by Phidias.

What the viewer receives from the frieze is an impression of tumult, but a tumult in which the faces of the Olympians are uniformly calm, and those of the giants contorted. This depicts a battle in which the superiority of one side over another is absolute. The giants are anchored to the earth by their snake-tailed bodies, defining them as reptilian frequently we see them being pulled by the hair, raging but essentially impotent.

Hecate fights against Klytios on the left Artemis against Otos on the right

On the eastern side of the altar area, on the left, the presentation begins with the three-faceted goddess Hecate. She fights in her three incarnations with a torch, a sword and a lance against the giant Klytios. Next to her is Artemis, the goddess of the hunt in keeping with her function she fights with a bow and arrow against a Giant who is perhaps Otos. Her hunting dog kills another Giant with a bite to the neck.

On the south frieze, the goddess Rhea/Cybele, the great mother goddess of Asia Minor, rides into battle on a lion with bow and arrow. On the left can be seen the eagle of Zeus holding a bundle of lightning bolts in his claws. Next to Rhea, three of the immortals fight with a mighty, bull-necked Giant.

On the inside wall (stairway) are to be found (shown left to right above) the couple Nereus and Doris, a giant, and Oceanus, and a fragment supposed to be Tethys, all of whom are engaged in fighting Giants. The figures in themselves reveal their distinctive character rather than this being the result of the artists personal styles.

Thomas Struth. Berlin: Pergamon Museum 6, 1996 (detail of a larger photograph)

As the Attalids were supreme patrons and had actually employed mercenary troops to effect their victories, there was no place here for any depiction of the citizen body of Pergamum itself.

Above: Altar Foundation in Pergamon

The shape of the altar was almost a square. In this respect it followed Ionic models, which specified a wall enclosing the actual sacrificial altar on three sides. On the open side the altar could be accessed via a stairway. For cultic reasons such altars were usually oriented toward the east so that those bringing sacrifices entered the altar from the west.

Some criticized the use of the Pergamon Altar as a backdrop for the application submitted by the city of Berlin to host the Olympic summer games in 2000. The Senate of Berlin had invited the members of the IOC executive committee to a banquet taking place in front of the altar. That called to mind Berlin's application to host the games in 1936. Also at that time the Nazi Minister of the Interior Wilhelm Frick had invited the members of the IOC to a banquet laid out in front of the altar.

The new Pergamene style is illustrated by a group of sculpture from a monument commemorating the victory in 230 BCE of Attalos I (ruled 241-197 BCE) over the Gauls. These figures, originally in bronze but known today only from Roman copies in marble, were mounted on a large pedestal.

Epigonos (?). Dying Gaul, Roman copy of a bronze original from Pergamon, c. 230-220 BCE, marble

The wiry, unkempt hair and the trumpeters twisted neck ring, or torque (the only item of dress the Celtic Gauls wore in battle), identify them as barbarians.

Writing a century or two later, Diodorus Siculus tells us how the Gauls washed their hair in limewater, making it dense and tousled, and consequently looked like satyrs, or even Pan. From Pan comes panic- a good thing if you create it on the battlefield (as has been claimed for one of the Macedonian kings, Antig


Hecate

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Hecate, goddess accepted at an early date into Greek religion but probably derived from the Carians in southwest Asia Minor. In Hesiod she is the daughter of the Titan Perses and the nymph Asteria and has power over heaven, earth, and sea hence, she bestows wealth and all the blessings of daily life.

Hecate was the chief goddess presiding over magic and spells. She witnessed the abduction of Demeter’s daughter Persephone to the underworld and, torch in hand, assisted in the search for her. Thus, pillars called Hecataea stood at crossroads and doorways, perhaps to keep away evil spirits. Hecate was represented as single-formed, clad in a long robe, holding burning torches in later representations she was triple-formed, with three bodies standing back-to-back, probably so that she could look in all directions at once from the crossroads. She was accompanied by packs of barking dogs.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Adam Augustyn, Managing Editor, Reference Content.