Sarcophagus Panel



Panel from a sarcophagus showing the myth of the abduction of Persephone. The scene comprises of: Athena in the centre, wearing the aegis, a helmet and holding a shield and with her back turned to the viewer. She is trying to stop Hades from abducting Persephone. Behind Athena there is a female companion who is trying to flee the scene. She wears a heavy peplos which is pinned on her shoulders and girted under her breasts. She has her hair bound with a series of bands (sphedone ) and wears simple sandals. In between the feet of Athena and the female companion there is the low part of an altar, only just visible. It is there to suggest that Hades has violated a sacred area. His mantle swirls behind him; he springs into the chariot violently grasping his price and turning away from Athena. Persephone's body is completely contracted and she appears helpless: her head is flung to her back, her arms straightly outstretched, her hair falling downwards in dishevelled tresses, her legs are bent beneath her. The spiral columns of the sides of the fragment transform it into a complete entity and also echo the movement of the forms of Hades' garments and the girl's flowing tresses. From the first quarter of the 2nd century AD many Roman metropolitan workshops produced different variations of the myth of the abduction. This fragment would have been from a large sarcophagus which would have included other characters: Demetra on a chariot drawn by enormous snakes and holding a torch, looking for her daughter. Artemis and Aphrodite would have accompanied Persephone and Hermes in a chlamys and his usual winged petasos would have been guiding Hades' four horse chariot. An Eros holding a flaming torch would be hovering round the couple and Tellus holding a cornucopia would have been underneath the chariot. There may have also been an overturned basket suggesting of the moment when Persephone was abducted while gathering flowers. Often the story could have been limited to the most dramatic moment. The representation in this relief is of the peak period, mid Antonine, when the myth became popular for sarcophagi's decoration. The end reliefs would have supplementary decoration perhaps of a river deity and nymphs to suggest the idyllic landscape of the rape. The other supplementary relief could be telling of the story of Persephone's return to earth. The myth of Persephone's abduction was in Roman art as in Greek and Etruscan art exclusively used for funerary purposes. The panel is heavily restored in the left section the right leg and arm of Persephone's companion, her face and left arm which is now missing. Restorations are also on the face of Athena, her shield and her crest and visor, part of the shield's rim, the lower part of the relief with the frame, her right foot and part of her chariot's wheel. Restored are also the upper bodies of Hades and Persephone and parts of the chariot.