Visiting Ephesus . . . in Vienna, part 2: Some gods

Monument relating to SalutarisWalking through an ancient city such as Ephesus, one would encounter a plethora of monuments, inscriptions and statues on a scale not familiar to a modern person who is used to sky-scrapers and plain old pavement. Among these were dedications to Roman imperial authorities, such as an emperor or a governor, and monuments erected by or for local notables in the city, such as the monument for C. Vibius Salutaris which you see to your left. There were also many buildings and monuments relating to the gods at Ephesus, some of which I have discussed before.
Hermes statue (missing head)

There are numerous artefacts pertaining to gods and goddesses in the “Ephesus Museum” at Vienna.Hermes Hermes head (without body)One might encounter a god like Hermes at various points in one’s travel through the city. Thus, for instance, archeologists have recovered a now headless statue of Hermes (above). But they have also found a bodiless head of Hermes (left). This messenger god Hermes also appears more than once at Ephesus in his other, less humanoid form as protector of those that travel (right).

Central to honouring any deity in the ancient Mediterranean was sacrifice. And so one would find altars on which to make offerings to certain deities, especially animal sacrifices, in the many temples and shrines in Ephesus. One of the altars that is now at Vienna possesses an interesting relief that depicts the goddess Nike (“Victory”) proceeding forward with an animal for sacrifice. Quite often Greeks (and Romans) would depict their gods engaged in the very activities that devotees engaged in. Thus deities are often pictured holding a libation bowl in their statues. Libation bowls were used by worshippers to honour a god or goddess with a drink offering.

Altar with Nike

Although not from Ephesus specifically, the museum at Vienna also happens to have a statue of a native Anatolian goddess (with many local “incarnations”), the Great Mother or Cybele as she was called by Greeks and Romans. Cybele was, in many cases, a goddess associated with the wild and with mountains in particular. Quite often she is pictured seated on a throne or standing with lions on either side as in this statue. Cybele was also known for her secretive “mysteries“.
Cybele from Pergamum

7 thoughts on “Visiting Ephesus . . . in Vienna, part 2: Some gods

  1. Michael Hoffman

    It might be an oversized mushroom, or an incense burner (thymaterion) such as for a mixture of cannabis, henbane, and opium, shaped in the form of an oversized mushroom such as a Liberty Cap.

  2. Phil

    Thanks, Michael. It looks like you’ve saved me some research. It would make sense that this is a thymiaterion or incense burner that Nike is carrying along with the sacrificial victim (again, reflecting cultic items that worshippers use to honour Nike). However, the suggestion that drugs are involved is far fetched. I don’t think Nike was quite that psychedelic. Phil H.

  3. kate

    I find this Cybele statue interesting, because it clearly shows the multiple “lobes” as below and distinctly separate from the breasts, and of an altogether different character. I’ve also noticed that in the (presumably later?) Artemis versions the diagonal arrangement of the lobes is maintained, as is the lower placement, although they are significantly inflated and the “normal” breasts are not present. The diagonal arrangement is definitely more plant-like than it is mammalian.

    I’m not aware of much Greek statuary showing pendulous breasts – they tend to be depicted somewhat more youthfully. Perhaps this is just a question of date range? At any rate, I’d be interested in seeing other depictions of the Cybele figure like the one you’ve shown above.

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