The Daidoumenos of Vaison is a Roman marble statue of an ancient Greek athlete. Found at Vaison, a Roman town in Southern France, this beautiful piece is at the British Museum (because the Louvre refused to buy it for its ‘unreasonable price’!). The statue is a Roman copy of a Greek original in bronze. Just think for a second about how much the Romans learnt from the Greeks… After conquering their lands, they brought back home all their most beautiful artworks and took inspiration from them. Clearly, they couldn’t forget the Daidoumenos, a sculpture by one of the most famous artists of Classical Greece, Polykleitos.
1. The Representation of Perfection in Greek and Roman Sculpture
The statue portrays an Olympic winner lifting his arms to knot a ribbon around his head. This Daidoumenos (which literally means ‘ribbon wearer’), had just received a ribbon for winning an athletic competition. Of course, the athlete is still naked! And his muscles are contracted as would be normal after a physical contest. A wonderful occasion for Polykleitos! The excellent sculptor could use the nudity and the athletic body of the athlete to improve his ability to portray perfection and beauty. The original statue was made of bronze, a material that more closely represented the tanned and oiled skin of the victor.
2. The Idealisation of the Human Figure
But who is this athlete? and what can his portrait tell us of him? Not much… in the 5th century BC Greek sculptors did not aim at real portraiture: statues didn’t need to resemble the physical characteristics of their owners. Instead, artists aimed at the idealisation of the human figure. While a real ancient Greek athlete actually received the Daidoumenos as a gift, the statue represented him as a generic and beautiful victor, whose perfection could inspire all viewers coming across it.
3. Beauty: the ultimate value of Goodness
Being athletic, beautiful and going to the palaestra (gym), wasn’t less important than going to school or learning about Homer. And Statues of Olympic winners deserved everyone’s attention: the values of Beauty and Goodness were strictly associated. Unfortunately, we can’t know what the athlete behind the image looked like. However, there is something that this statue can tell us about him! he won 3 Olympic games, which is why he receiveda statue. One-time winnersreceived, other than fame and glory, ‘only’ a ribbonand some oil.
In ancient Greek society people carefully followed the social rules of good behaviour. Women had to be good mothers. Kids and youths went to school, to the gym and were trained to be brave warriors. The elder ones inspired the new generations with their wise advice. And everyone prayed to the gods during the religious festivities. There was a time though, when almost everything was allowed and when social rules of good behaviour could be forgotten: the symposium. Museums are filled with vases showing symposiasts having fun and playing, precisely because the Greeks, like the Egyptians, the Mesopotamians, the Chinese and the Anglo-Saxons, often buried their dead with games (or scenes of games), in order to allow them to have fun during their afterlife.
1. What a Vase Can tell Us About Ancient Greek Lifestyle
Among the many drinking vessels at the British Museum, there is one of particular interest. It’s a red-figured Stamnos showing Greeks playing a drinking game called ‘Kottabos’ (and is, of course, one of our Fun and Games treasures). During the game, players had to throw dregs of wine at a target. It was a bit like darts, but harder because the dregs had to stick together mid-air before reaching the target. The protagonists of the scene are ephebes, Greek male adolescents training to become soldiers. All ephebes are well dressed (or half-dressed!), sometimes wear ivy-wreaths, and drink and sing, while a girl in a beautiful garment plays the flute.
2. Gender Roles at the Symposium
All the males in the scene were part of the wealthier part of the population. Only the richest and most educated men were allowed to have fun at the symposium, after all. But what was the role of women at the party and in ancient Greece? The girl represented was probably a hetaira (a slave prostitute). Hetairai constituted a social class of their own in ancient Greek society. In their daily life, they were trained to serve as the companions of wealthy men (while their wives were secluded at home).
3. The Role of Women in Ancient Greek Society
Historians and archaeologists don’t often know much about Greek Women and their stories. For sure we know that Greek men were freer than women. The hard duties of men’s daily life could in fact be eased at their drinking parties, where rules didn’t exist. Some suggest that the hetairai, the women entertaining them during the symposium, were more influential than the women of the upper class. During their training, they were taught philosophy and politics so to be able to converse with all men. While they were, of course, little more than sex slaves, it seems clear from the evidence at our disposal that hetairai did participate in the intellectual life of ancient Greece and that the symposiasts often took them as their personal advisors.
4. A Vase or a Book?
It is incredible how much we can learn from the scene of a vase! Greek vases are almost books, often recounting stories of real life and social behaviour and allowing us to enter the fascinating world of ancient Greek society. For more on Greek art and architecture, read about The Parthenon and don’t forget to check our posts on Egyptian art, giving away other bonus answers, hereand here! Are you also in love with Greek art and its hidden messages? Book a hunt at either the British Museum or the Louvre where you’ll find plenty of Greek art! If you liked the saucy theme of this blog post, have a look at the most interesting love stories of the past: Cupid and Psyche, The Ain Sakhri Lovers, Thetis and Peleus, and Priapus.
Just a heads up: some of the things in bold might be answers to bonus questions on your Fun & Games hunt, whose First ever Version in Italian will be on Friday April 3rd at 5.30 pm.
Just a heads up:things in bold might be answers to bonus questions on your Fun & Games hunt! The First ever Version in Italian will be on Friday April 3rd at 5.30 pm. You can also read this blog in Italian here!
From sculptures to pottery, from paintings to temples, mythology is a broad topic in ancient Greek art and architecture. The Parthenon architecture, one of the most famous ancient complexes of all times, is a striking example of how the ancient Greeks took inspiration from their classical mythology to make sense of the real world.
Rise of the Parthenon
This magnificent temple was built after the Persian Wars, when, in the mid 5th century BC. Athens and its leader, Pericles, wanted to show the world that they were strong, and brave. The city had been destroyed several times and the Parthenon architecture could be a symbol of its rebirth. In order to serve Pericles’ nationalistic goal, the Greeks built the temple on top of the Acropolis, where it could be clearly visible by anyone approaching the city.
The temple honoured Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom and War and patroness of Athens. She is also the protagonist of its key decorations. However, after their outstanding victory over the Persians, the Greeks wanted the Parthenon honor all the Gods of Mount Olympus, not only Athena. Gods and Goddesses occupied the pediments (the big triangles supported by columns on the short sides of the temple). The West Pediment told of the mythological contest between Athena and Poseidon (the God of the Sea) over who would be the ruler of Attica. The victory went to the Virgin Goddess. The East Pediment evoked the story of the birth of Athena before the other divinities gathered to enjoy the event.
The monstrous enemy
But mythology could serve a smarter and more useful role. Stories of battles between uncivilised beasts and strong men, could easily be connected to the more recent historical events: the Wars between the barbaric Persians and the heroic Athenians. Any who studied the Greeks knows that they considered the Centaur (a half-man, half-horse beast usually drunken and very loud!) the ‘uncivilised’ par excellence. And so… Greek sculptors used the metopes (the rectangular spaces under the pediments) to represent the mythological fight between the Lapiths (a legendary tribe from Thessaly) and the Centaurs. They crashed the wedding of the Lapith king in order to steal their women. The tale served the ideological goal of the temple perfectly: the centaurs could metaphorically represent the Persians and their bad manners, while the Lapiths, who win the battle in the end, were connected to the superior and civilised Athenians.
The Parthenon today
One cannot but think that the Greeks were real masters of the arts! They were highly skilled sculptors and architects and with the Parthenon, their iconographic choices often followed precise ideological plans. We can’t know if the Greeks will ever get their most famous sculpture back to Athens, but for now we keep enjoying some of its parts at the British Museum. Want to know more about how the famous ‘Elgin Marbles’ were brought to the English capital? Read the story here! The Parthenon architecture is, of course, a wonderful treasure in our Fun & Games hunt; for more blog posts (and bonus answers) on other Fun & Games treasures check here and here! Feel like you’d like to learn more about Greek Art? Check our Blog post on the Symposium in ancient Greece.
Avviso veloce: alcune delle informazioni in grassetto potrebbero essere risposte a domande bonus nella tua caccia Divertimento e Giochi, la cui Prima Verisione in Italiano, sarà Venerdì 3 Aprile alle 17.30.
Da sculture e vasi, ad affreschi e templi, la mitologia popola quasi l’intera produzione artistica greca. Il Partenone, uno dei più famosi complessi architettonici di tutti i tempi, rappresenta un lampante esempio di come i Greci si lasciassero ispirare dai propri racconti mitologici per dare un senso al mondo che li circondava.
Questo magnifico tempio fu costruito alla fine delle Guerre Persiane, quando, alla metà del V secolo AC, Atene e il suo leader, Pericle, desideravano mostrare al mondo di essere una popolazione forte ed eroica. La città era stata distrutta diverse volte nei decenni precedenti e il Partenone e i suoi rilievi potevano di certo essere un simbolo della sua rinascita. Per servire gli obiettivi nazionalistici di Pericle, i Greci posizionarono il tempio in cima all’Acropoli di modo che fosse chiaramente visibile. Il Tempio celebrava Atena, Dea della Saggezza e della Guerra, e protettrice della città, che, in effetti, è la protagonista delle sue decorazioni architettoniche. I Greci, però, dopo la loro grandiosa vittoria sui Persiani, volevano ringraziare tutti gli abitanti del Monte Olimpo per il loro supporto durante le Guerre, e non soltanto Atena. Non dovrebbe dunque sorprenderci se Dei e Dee occupano i frontoni (i grandi triangoli sostenuti dalle colonne ad entrambi i lati corti del tempio): il Frontone Ovest raccontava della sfida mitologica tra Atena e Poseidone (il Dio del mare), in lite per chi di loro potesse governare sull’Attica, e della vittoria della Dea; il Frontone Est, invece, mostrava il racconto della nascita di Atena al cospetto di altre divintà riunite per assistere all’evento.
La mitologia, però, poteva servire un compito ancora più intelligente e sofisticato: racconti di combattimenti tra bestie incivili ed uomini coraggiosi, potevano facilmente essere connessi ai recenti eventi storici: le Guerre tra i barbari Persiani e gli eroici Ateniesi. Chi ha studiato i Greci sa che consideravano il centauro (una creatura per metà uomo e per metà cavallo, solitamente ubriaca e molto rumorosa!) la personificazione dell’ ‘inciviltà’ per eccellenza. E così… I migliori scultori Greci utilizzarono le metope (spazi rettangolari sotto i frontoni) per rappresentare il combattimento mitologico tra i Lapiti (una tribù leggendaria della Tessalonia) e i Centauri, che fecero irruzione al Matrimonio del re dei Lapiti per rubarne le donne. Il racconto serviva l’obiettivo ideologico del tempio perfettamente: i centauri rappresentavano metaforicamente i Persiani e le loro cattive maniere, mentre i Lapiti, che alla fine vincono la battaglia, richiamavano al coraggio dei civilizzati Ateniesi.
Non possiamo che affermare che i Greci erano veri maestri delle arti! Non solo erano abili scultori e architetti ma, come nel caso del Partenone, le loro scelte iconografiche spesso seguivano dei sofisticati piani ideologici. Se hai voglia di leggere di uno dei più famosi artisti greci di tutti i tempi, Policleto, clicca qui! Non possiamo sapere se i Greci riusciranno mai a riportare a casa il loro amato tempio, ma per adesso noi continuiamo a godercelo al British Museum. Vuoi sapere di come i famosi ‘Marmi di Elgin’ furono portati nella capitale inglese? Dai un’occhiata qui! Il Partenone è, ovviamente, un meraviglioso tesoro della nostra Caccia a tema Divertimento e Giochi! Per qualche altro posts (e risposte a domande bonus) su altri tesori della Caccia Divertimento e Giochi, leggi quie qui! Vuoi saperne di più della Grecia antica? Dai un’occhiata al nostro post sul cosa un vaso Greco può dirci del Simposio!
Our final Love Hunt Blog before Valentine’s Day is all about its chubby little mascot: Cupid. Check out the whole series here, here and here! However our little cherub has a much more storied past, before he was reduced to selling cards and chocolates.
Originally Eros in Greek, the God of Love, in some versions he is one of the oldest forces in the universe, predated only by Chaos and Gaia (Earth). Most commonly though the Romans knew little Cupid as the son of Venus, Goddess of beauty. Her husband was Vulcan, but Cupid’s father is Mars, God of War, naughty! (This might be useful on your hunt!) The winged archer is a symbol of how flighty love makes us, and he carries a bow because love wounds us from afar. He is also sometimes depicted as blind, to show how love is indiscriminate and makes us blind to all else.
You might also find him riding dolphins on fountains and other classical architecture. Though clearly many Roman artists had clearly never seen an actual dolphin before ever in their lives.
But Cupid of course could not avoid being struck by one of his own arrows. Eventually even the God of Love finds himself deeply in love with a mortal called Psyche. Psyche originally meant ‘soul’ or ‘breath of life’, rather than mind in the original Greek. She was a mortal of great beauty hated by Venus for stealing worship and attention away from her. Venus send her son to make Psyche fall in love with something hideous but poor Cupid scratches himself with an arrow and instead falls deeply in love with her. He spirits her away to his villa in secret, so everyone will believe she is in love with a monster like his spiteful mother wanted.
In the ‘Beast’s’ castle Psyche is entertained by songs, and dinners that serve themselves as she slowly starts to fall for the mysterious beast she never sees… Sound familiar? (Be our guest, be our guest… what’s the story? Have you guessed?) Until one night she sneaks into Cupid’s room as he sleeps. She is so startled by his beauty, that she stumbles into his nearby arrows and falls head over heels for him too!
After some brief torturous quests to the Underworld to placate Venus, her jealous mother-in-law, Psyche is given ambrosia by Zeus, king of the gods. This makes her immortal and Cupid and Psyche live happily ever after! Their wedding feast was second only to Thetis and Peleus, also found in our Love hunt!
Today for our third Love Huntblog we have a very special object. The oldest and most mysterious object on our Love Hunt: The Ain Sakhri Lovers. Possibly the oldest porn in the world!
This statue is the oldest known representation in the world of two people making love. Discovered in the Ain Sakhri caves near Bethlehem, it dates back around 11,000 years. At this time, humans were only just learning how to move from hunter-gathering to farming. The Natufian people of the Middle East who made this sculpture we’re some of the first to begin to domesticate sheep and goats, alongside their hunting dogs for catching deer.
Now animal husbandry and breeding means you’ve worked out what men are for in the job of creating new life. So this phallic looking little figure could have been a ritual object, related to a fertility god or goddess. Maybe a divine talisman aimed at helping their fledgling civilization be fruitful and multiply? Or it could just be someone carving themselves a little saucy bit of fun!
Studying the human form
It shows two figures sat facing and with their legs wrapped around each other, one on top of the other. It is impossible to work out the figures’ genders though. We have no idea if it shows a man and woman in the act of reproduction or two men celebrating all things Priapic. Because whatever way you look at the statue, it seems to have been designed to look phallic in some way. Artist Marc Quinn wrote about this piece for the BBC’s Around the World in 100 Objects programme and noted that from every direction you can read the overall image as some kind of reproductive organ. I will leave it up to your imaginations to see what you can see!
Welcome to our second Love Hunt blog (see the first here). Read up on the sauciest stories from antiquity and get yourselves some bonus points!
Welcome to the tale of the grandest wedding of the Greek world. Maybe not the loveliest wedding but definitely the most eventful. Full of drama, scandal and family feuds, like all good weddings!
Thetis was a Sea Nymph admired by Zeus and Poseidon (Remember this for bonus points!) until they discover a prophesy. Her son will be greater than his father. So they decide to marry her off to a mortal, to avoid any danger. They did kill their dad after all!
They choose to marry her off to Peleus, a mortal king, to that great son will be mortal and no threat to the Gods. Peleus tracks Thetis down and tries to shake him off by transforming into a lioness, serpent, fire and water but he’s a clingy guy and won’t give up easily. Eventually Thetis surrenders and agrees to the wedding.
Zeus throws a huge feast to celebrate, and all the gods are invited. All except one. Eris, the Godess of Discord is not invited. Don’t we all have that one family member who always causes trouble everywhere they go? But of course, rather than stay away, Eris does what she does best and causes havoc. She crashes the wedding and throws a gift out ‘to the fairest’ goddess at the party. Hera, queen of the gods, Athena, Goddess of wisdom and war and Aphrodite, Goddess of Love and beauty all believe themselves the fairest of them all, so Zeus makes a mortal prince, Paris, pick which goddess is the most beautiful. Sound like a good idea? Having the best man publicly announce the hottest bridesmaid?
What follows is everyone is so furious at the outcome, the Trojan war begins and all hell breaks loose. Pretty good drama for just one wedding. Maybe the moral is better to invite a little discord than have a lot turn up uninvited?
Regardless, Thetis doesn’t have to stick with clingy Peleus once the war starts. She has her amazing son, Achilles, hero of the Trojan war! You can discover all about Thetis, Achilles and the Trojan war at the British Museum until 8th March 2020 in their Troy exhibition, containing one of our favourite treasures from our Fun and Games and Love Hunts, the Sopholos Dinos!
This is either the last or the penultimate post in the Louvre Photo Series. It’s been a pleasure to ponder what images to use for the imminent THATLou website.
As I touched on in the last post, photographic tastes which I’d long ago forgotten awoke, such as automatically turning to black and white, steering clear of portraiture (unless people are tiny, indecipherable specs in the distance, I’m not really interested in them), looking at shadows, architecture and reflexions, and above all — what the Louvre provides in spades – is a love of geometric shapes. Don’t really have much more to say than that.
In fact a complaint I’ve had from many regarding this blog is that the posts are just too long. When I’m writing about content, which is the majority of this blog it’s true that they are a bit wordy. But were anyone who took art history seriously to read this (apart from my mother) they’d say that this blog is too superficial (she saves my feelings by not saying anything). So since you can’t please everyone, I’m just going to do a photo-dump today, and leave you with some images which may or may not appear on this imminent website that Jenny Beaumont’s doing a phenomenal (and immense) job on.
Before you can begin treasure hunting through the Louvre’s amazing collection, you first have to get inside! The museum has a charge to enter and it is much easier, and much faster to book online in advance, to save you waiting in long boring queues.
The best and cheapest place to get your Louvre entry tickets is at the official Louvre site. If you have booked a Classic or Luxe THATMuse we recommend you book your tickets for 30 minutes after your start time. This allows time for you to meet your THATMuse greeter, who will enthral you with the history of the galleries before explaining how the hunt works, then lead you through security and inside, the quickest way possible.
If you have booked a Corporate Group or School Hunt you will meet your Greeter inside the foyer of the museum. We recommend you contact us for the best way to book tickets, depending on your size and age.
Other small points to remember: All kids under 18 enter free (without the need for a blank ticket) and EU citizens under the age of 26 enter free with photo ID. We always recommend our clients who have kids aged 15 or older to bring photo ID with them wherever they go in Paris, anyway.
If you are having trouble getting tickets during high season, around the holidays for example, check out our blog here to find out the best places to get last minute tickets!
Looking for a special gift for a special person? Have friends or family going to London or Paris at Easter, this summer or who may live there? Why not offer up a museum treasure hunt, making explorers of them for some maverick museum fun!
All of our Treasure Hunts are now available for purchase as Gift Certificates!
Simply send us a message on our Contact Us page. If you provide us with the information needed (The museum if decided, names of the gift giver & recipient, a message and of course their email address), we will put together an email for you or us to send them all they need to set up their THATMuse! We do not send out physical certificates, as we have had trouble with them reliably arriving to the intended in good condition or at all…
· Gift Certificates are valid for up to six people.
· We require at least 48 hours’ notice.
· The gift certificate has a three month expiry from the date of purchase, and it is the recipient’s responsibility to get in touch with THATMuse to book a specific date and time. Specific dates and times are subject to availability. It is best to request a range of dates/times to find one that best suits our availability and the recipient’s choice.
PRICES/TYPES OF HUNT:
– A Luxe hunt for families of 6 or fewer (if families are smaller they are welcomed to invite friends to consist of a 6-person booking) costs £300/3 hours. This covers the organisation & materials (team packs with clipboards, the hunts, highlighted maps, pencils, as well of course as weighty medals for the winning team and teasing poke prizes for the 2nd place team). During the 3 hours the THATMuse Rep briefs teams on the hunt, shows them how to strategize and orients them to the museum’s layout; whilst playing we prowl about after them to spot check no cheating and maybe throw help on bonus questions. Then we all regroup for score tallying and prize-giving (which can be organized at a nearby café/pub or within the museum depending on client plans).
– A budget version also exists where you are not met at the end of the hunt.
SECURING YOUR BOOKING: When everything’s been set, we’ll send you an invoice payable by credit card online. Please note, no booking is secured until we’ve received this payment. Upon Payment we will send you our finished Gift Certificate to the recipient, with you in copy. Alternatively, if you prefer to give the gift in person, we can send you the PDF of the Gift Certificate to print and let them contact us with a set of proposed dates.
Sekhmet was a fierce warrior goddess, protector of the pharaohs and daughter of the sun god Ra. She was the goddess of destruction and purging, and was worshipped in Memphis as ‘the destroyer’. Her name means, “the (one who is) powerful or mighty” but her nicknames include “(One) Before Whom Evil Trembles”, “Mistress of Dread”, “Lady of Slaughter” and “She Who Mauls”–sounds like a friendly lady. Pretty awesome nicknames, huh? Might be a good source of inspiration for coming up with your next THATMuse team name, right?
She’s often depicted as half woman/half lioness (Incidentally, can you think of any other gods and goddesses who also have animal features, perhaps featured on the THATMuse blog? Hint: his name begins with an H and he has the head of a hawk). Sekhmet was closely associated with the desert, and therefore often shown with a sun disk on her head.
In one myth, she was sent to earth to destroy her dad’s, Ra, enemies but she grew so bloodthirsty she almost killed off everyone—to stop her, Ra poured out a mass amount of beer stained red (with pomegranate juice) tricking Sekhmet into thinking it was blood. She drank so much of the red beer and became so drunk that she gave up killing people and went back sleepily and peacefully to Ra. When she awoke from her drunken stupor, the first thing she saw was Ptah—the god of creation, and fell instantly in love with him.
Every year there was a festival to honor Sekhmet, where Egyptians would get completely black-out drunk to imitate her. (Is it just me, or does this festival sound like a good excuse to throw a party?) Mankind also had to constantly appease her with offerings to abate her wrath. Egyptologists think that Amenhotep III built a temple with over 700 statues to her so that people could honor her every day of the year with a different statue. Hence part of the reason why statues of her abound: say hello to this bloodthirsty babe at the Louvre and the British Museum, and also at the Met and the Vatican (Don’t THATMet or THATVat have a ring to them?!)
See Part 1 of our Egyptian Gods series here! Just a heads up: some of the things in bold might be the answers to bonus questions on your hunt!
Isis gave birth to a baby boy with the head of a hawk (must have been a freaky experience), called Horus. When Horus was all grown up, he decided to fight his evil uncle Seth for the throne. (Since his parents were siblings, Seth was his uncle on both sides—freaky, right?)
Seth challenged Horus to a series of contests to see who would become king of Egypt. In one battle, Seth gouged out one of Horus’s eyes, but it was restored by the goddess Hathor (the mother of the sun god Ra). The ‘Eye of Horus’ became a symbol of healing and protection in Egyptian art. Keep an eye out for it next time you’re scouting out Egyptian treasure!
The contest that Seth and Horus had was a boat race. But this boat race had a twist: Seth and Horus would be racing boats of stone. Horus was a bit of a trickster, and built a boat that was actually wood, but covered with plaster to look like stone. Seth’s boat sank right away, of course, and all the gods laughed at him. Seth was angry at his failure and transformed himself into a huge hippopotamus and attacked his Horus’s boat. They fought, but just as Horus was about to kill Seth once and for all, the other gods intervened.
In the end, all of these contests proved pointless. Instead, the gods decided on a more sensible course of action: to write a letter to Osiris who wasGod of the Dead, and ask his advice. Osiris said that Horus was a better candidate for king as he had not killed anyone (this seems like a pretty solid criterion for most job descriptions, to be honest). Finally, Horus became King of Egypt.
Going back to Seth and Horus’s boat race, boats were an incredibly important symbol in Egyptian mythology. The solar god Ra, was thought to ride on his magical boat through the sky providing light to the world, and travelling to the underworld at night. Egyptian pharaohs were also thought to travel through the underworld on a boat after their deaths—have a look at Queen Mutemwia’s funeral barge at the British Museum pictured below.
Keep an eye out for depictions of Seth, Isis, Osiris and Horus in many of our British Museum themes, such as Fun + Games, Love Hunt, and of course the chilling Skull Scouting. Keep an eye out the same cast of characters while scouting out the Zodiac of Dendera and the Sarcophagus of Ramesses III at the Louvre in our Skull Scouting and Beauty and the Bestiary hunts there.