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The fight of the eagle with the snake: the old narrative(s) behind iconography and epigraphy

June 27, 2017

Minories-Eagle-and-Serpent-c-MOLA-Andy-ChoppingIn September 2013 a spectacular Roman find was discovered in London, ancient Londinium. A beautifully carved Roman statue dated on the late 2nd century A.D. was found on the territory of a Roman cemetery.

The particularity of this statue lies in its iconography: the small sized eagle is represented in a fight with a snake, wrapped around the predator’s neck and body. This iconography appears on few representations in Britannia but not only, often appears in the Eastern provinces too., as it was highlighted by professor M. Henig and his co-authors in the latest publication of the famous statue. (I’m very thankful for prof. Henig citing me in his article).

IDR III.5. 136bWhen I saw the statue in the press in 2013 I was remembering suddenly one of the most peculiar inscriptions of Apulum from Roman Dacia, which mentions a prodigy, a “miracle” associated with the fight of an eagle and the snake (IDR III/5, 136):

I(ovi) o(ptimo) m(aximo) / Aur(elius) Marinus / Bas(s)us et Aur(elius) / Castor Polyd/ i circumstantes / viderunt numen / aquilae descidis(s)e / monte supra dracone(m) / res validavit / supstrinxit aquila(m) / hi s(upra) s(cripti) aquila(m) de / periculo / liberaverunt /v(oto) l(ibentes) m(erito) p(osuerunt)

This unique inscription dedicated by two Syrians shows, that a particular story, a narrative or even many versions of a myth existed and was wide-spread in the Roman Empire about the fight of the supreme god and the symbol of the evil power, the snake.

Daniel Ogden just sent me a reference, which serves a great analogy for this narrative behind the iconogaphy of the London-statue and the inscription from Apulum (Alba Iulia, Romania). The passage of Aaelian (Characteristics of Animals 17.37) describes exactly the mythical fight of an eagle with the snake:

 

Bemutató1The story of Aelian, the inscription of Apulum and the iconography of the new statue from Londinium shows not only the mobility and wide spread of ancient myths and religious narratives, but also the local appropriations of these stories beyond iconography and epigraphy.

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