Syeda Hishita Aurnab
GRONOVIOUS, Jacobus. Thesaurus Graecarum antiquitatum (Amsterdam, 1697-1702)
The meaning of the words ‘Nymphae’ and ‘Nymphaei’ could not be found. Different spellings like ‘Nymphaea’ and ‘Nymph’ have been suggested. Oxford Dictionaries define the term ‘Nymph’ as “a mythological spirit of nature imagined as a beautiful maiden inhabiting rivers, woods, or other locations” (Oxford Dictionaries 2013). A few other definitions of the word are also available in various other dictionaries. The three Nymphs shown on this image can be linked to the Three Graces from Greek and Roman mythologies. Images similar to this can be found on coins, mosaics, etc. “The Three Graces were goddesses of gracefulness, the charms of beauty, and cheerful amusement (the characteristics of loveliness)” (Ancient Numismatic Mythology 2013). Most myths suggest that there were a few variety of nymphs. It is not possible to declare which type of nymph the ones portrayed on the image are without probably translating the Latin description on the next page. M. Grant mentions “Nymphs of the Ash-Trees” Grant (1962: 100) created by Earth from drops of blood. He also refers to “oak-nymphs” or “Dryads” Grant (1962: 440). From these names one can say that Nymphs are associated with trees. Buxton says that Nymphs were usually linked to parts of the natural world like trees, mountains, etc. (Buxton, 2004: 184). The three nymphs drawn on this beautiful Greek/Latin book can also be the Three Graces. According to Greek myths, the Three Graces were the daughters of Jupiter and accompanied the Muses (Victoria and Albert Museum, 2013). The Muses were “anthropomorphic goddesses” (About.com). The sentence under the name on the portrait reads “Nymphaei Apolloniatarum praefides”. It probably means that Nymphs were the followers of or faithful to the Greek God Apollo.
This illustration consists of Prometheus and a few others involved in various activities. Prometheus was one of the Titans of Greek mythology and his parents were Iapetos and Klymene (Buxton, 2004). One section of the image, which covers the majority of the line-engraved illustration, shows a child-sized adult on the lap of a bearded man. A similar looking mini-sized human can be seen on the left with the Goddess Athena. This image can be compared to another one found in a book titled ‘The Complete Works of Greek Mythology’ by R. Buxton. Buxton’s image on page 55 of the book shows Prometheus creating “mini-humans” being overseen by Athena herself. The layouts of both pictures are very similar: both have Athena, Prometheus and small sized humans in similar positions. There is a tree on the background as well. Another segment portrays Prometheus as a grown man, tied to a rock, with a bird on his thigh. Prometheus is well known for being the individual who stole fire for humanity and was punished for it. According to some accounts of Greek mythology Zeus hid fire from humans and Prometheus gave it to them “in a hollow fennel stalk” Buxton (2004: 4). This is probably showing Prometheus enduring his punishment for aiding mortals as there are a large number of other art pieces that portray the same scene. Also present in this picture are two women on the background; one playing a musical instrument (type unknown) and the other is leaning against a column. There is a line in Latin under the name of the deity and it says “hominem fingens et punitus in Caucafo”. The translation would read something like, maker of man and punished in Caucafo.
Most illustrations of Cyclops show this group of gods as a big one-eyed being. They were said to be “giant beings with a single, round eye in the middle of their foreheads” (Encyclopedia Mythica 2005). There were two cohorts of Cyclops; the first three were descendants of Gaia and Uranus and the second were the progenies of Poseidon (Encyclopedia Mythica 2005). The primary group consisted of three brothers – Brontes, Steropes and Arges. This image of Cyclops however shows only one man and he does not have one eye. The bare chested man is holding a hammer and a pair of tongs. These being of immense power were said to be “builders of giant walls and master-smiths” Graves (1957:31). It is a possibility that because of their profession the male in this picture is holding a hammer and a pair of tongs. Maybe it can be said that the Cyclops shown on this engraving is one of the first three brothers because he is carrying a hammer and a pair of tongs. The second generation of Cyclops were a “band of lawless shepherds” and were later killed by Apollo (Encyclopedia Mythica 2005). Cyclops created valuable items for other Olympian gods including the trident of Poseidon and Zeus’ thunderbolts. Unfortunately all these men lived their early lives imprisoned deep within their mother, Earth (Gaia) because their father Uranus detested all of his children (Encyclopedia Mythica 2005). It is said that “The ghosts of Brontes, Steropes, and Arges are said to dwell in Mount Aetna, an active volcano that smokes as a result of their burning forges” (Encyclopedia Mythica 2005). Each drawing contains the name if the deity and a sentence under the name. Under Cyclops it says “inter fabros officinae vulcani” and this sentence probably suggests that Cyclops worked as a craftsman.
About.com. 2013. The 9 Greek Muses. Available from: http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/mgodsandgoddesses/tp/Muses.htm [Accessed 30th April 2013]
Ancient Numismatic Mythology. Unknown. The Three Graces and their Numismatic Mythology. Available from: http://ancientcoinage.org/three-graces-and-nymphs-mythology.html [Accessed 26th April 2013]
Buxton, R. 2004. The Complete World of Greek Mythology. London: Thames and Hudson.
Encyclopedia Mythica. 2005. Cyclops. Available from: http://www.pantheon.org/articles/c/cyclopes.html [Accessed 26th April 2013]
Grant, M. 1962. Myths of the Greeks and Romans. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
Graves, R. 1955. The Greek Myths: 1 and 2. England: Penguin Books.
Oxford Dictionaries. 2013. Nymph. Available from: http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/nymph [Accessed 26th April 2013]
Victoria and Albert Museum. 2013. The Three Graces. Available from: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/t/the-three-graces/ [Accessed 25th April 2013]
The Latin to English translations were done by Natalie Cregan, a third year student of this university.
Syeda Nishita Aurnab