Malibu Trekker @ thecityedition.com ----- Post #4 - Jan. 27, 2010

Looking west out at the Pacific Ocean 1/23/2010.

It's all Ancient History at the Getty Villa

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The history of antiquity has always intrigued me, from the time I was 12 and watched a documentary about  Erich van Daniken’s ancient astronaut theories, narrated by the inimitable Rod Serling.  Ten years later, I stumbled onto a book called When God was a Woman which took me into a completely different direction.  What strange things happened during those long ago days.  It shocked me that the history I’d studied in school never mentioned anything out of the ordinary. There was just this king and that king, this pharaoh and that pharaoh, this war and that war, etc. etc.  Now I wanted to know the truth, and one way to sort it all out was to gaze first hand at the actual objects that date from antiquity. 

For its part, the Getty Villa specializes in gods and goddesses from ancient Greece and Rome. Listening to one of docents, I learned that art historians identify the god portrayed in a statue by the objects he (or she) is holding, his hats and hair style, clothes, as well as the animals or other humans placed alongside (or underneath) him.

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On the left is Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, holding the apple that Paris (the Trojan prince) gave her. The statue is dated at 200 - 150 B.C. On the right is Nemesis, goddess of retribution. Notice the head of a conquered foe under her right foot. Those are wings on her back, and her left hand is directing the wheel of fortune. She's one of the few goddesses that survived the reduction of status and physical size in their portrayal during the Roman Empire, as this statue is dated to 150 A.D.

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Both of these ladies were carved in the second century A.D. On the left, a sensual depiction of Aphrodite (Venus to the Romans). On the right is Venus-Hygeiai, a hybrid goddess of love and hygene, with Cupid sulking at her feet.

Besides the statues, J. Paul Getty collected vessels during his lifetime, along with stone reliefs and other ceramics. The vessels are particularly informative as they often depict scenes similar to a storyboard for a Hollywood blockbuster in development.

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On the left, a mixing vessel showing Theseus slaying the minotaur -- with an erect penis no less. On the right, the women of Thrace are sticking it to Orpheus. Apparently, they didn't like his music. And speaking of vessels, can you picture either of these images on a gallon of milk?

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Herakles, called Hercules by the Romans, was one of the great Greek mythological heroes. Here he is slaying a lion. In the photo on the right, a vessel featuring Apollo (in the middle), god of prophecy and music, and Artemis, his twin sister and goddess of the hunt, who wears a short dress. The god Hermes is leaning against a pillar on the right side.

Here's Hercules in his element during the Roman era, about the second century A.D. He's holding a lion skin in his left hand, a club on the right.

So what does all of this tell us?

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