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    The GorgonAuthor(s): Furio JesiSource: East and West, Vol. 10, No. 1/2 (MARCH-JUNE 1959), pp. 88-93Published by: Istituto Italiano per l'Africa e l'Oriente (IsIAO)Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/29754081Accessed: 30-04-2016 02:26 UTC

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  • 7/26/2019 Gorgon furio jesi


    ^^^^^^ ^^^^^^^^V J^^^^^k

    | |w f ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ f ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ j ^ B

    Head of Gorgon, from a Corinthian crater.

    Go//. Dr. S. Schweizer Basel

    The Gorgon

    Notes and documents

    relating to the

    66 Prolegomena zu einer historischen


    by Leo Frobenius

    The amphora of Nessus in the Archaeological

    Museum of Athens (1) has preserved for us

    one of the traditional images of the Gorgon.

    The monster, fitted out with two great wings,

    is represented in the customary posture of the

    ritual race (corsa in ginocchio) found in many

    of the designs coming from Western Asia, in

    which Frobenius identified the solar motif of

    the swastica (2).

    The Gorgon's head is broad and flattened

    and ends in a kind of conventionalised mane.

    The enormous mouth with prominent fangs

    and protruding tongue, wide nostrils and round

    staring eyes, give the head a bestial expression.

    An image closely resembling this is painted on

    a scyphus decorated with black patterns belong?

    ing to the Robinson collection (3).

    Frobenius identifies in this portrayal of the

    Gorgon the motifs of the lion, the eagle, the

    serpent and the bird, pertaining to the arche?

    typal imagery of prehistoric Europe and of

    Africa fused together in the mythical concep?

    tion corresponding to related emotions, in

    conformity with the characteristic features of

    the rhythmological environment. The correct?

    ness of these observations becomes more

    evident if the image described above be com?

    pared to that on a large amphora coming from

    the necropolis of Eleusis (4). The conventio?

    nal head of the monster is roundish in shape,

    flattened at the poles and divided into two

    halves by the horizontal line of the mouth in

    which the teeth are suggested. The eyes are

    drawn obliquely at the upper ends of the head,

    and a stepped triangle represents the nose.

    Immediately above it, and running the whole

    length of the triangle, is a circle of small deco?

    rative patterns.

    This strange head is fixed to a rather long

    neck, on either side of which rise a couple of

    serpents with lowered heads, two other ser?

    pents occupy the corresponding position on

    a level with the mouth.

    While we have a frontal view of the head,

    the body of the Gorgon is seen in profile.

    The chest is square with rounded corners and

    the arms are stretched forwards.

    The only clothing worn by the monster is

    a long skirt, tied at the waist, falling over the

    leg drawn back as she steps.

    The solar symbolism of the frontal view of

    the lion is evidently found again in the Gor?

    gon; but it would perhaps be unduly restric?

    tive in an Asian work to attribute this meaning

    to the fontal view only, although this frontal

    view expresses very clearly the characteristic

    features of that symbol. That same motif that

    Frobenius noted also in the representation of

    an astral phenomenon commonly known as

    that of the plunderer (predatore) may indeed

    lend itself to such an interpretation, if we

    also take into account the fact that examples

    exist of a frontal view of predatory animals.

    I should like to note in this connection a

    Byzantine basrelief embedded in the rear wall

    of the Ancient Metropolis of Athens, repre?

    senting a frontal view of a felid (a lion)

    attacking an animal that looks like a deer (?).

    The representations of the frontal view of

    lions, mentioned by Frobenius, have much in

    common with the felid in this basrelief.

    I may therefore speak of solar symbolism

    both in the case of representations of felids

    seen in a frontal position and for those seen

    in profile in special designs, and this state?

    ment is justified by the alternation of frontal


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  • 7/26/2019 Gorgon furio jesi


    and profile views as well as by the analogy

    between these positions and those of the repre?

    sentatives of the predatory animals. But it is

    in the Corinthian ceramics that we find quite

    frequently images of more or less fantastic

    animals with a frontal view of a lion's face,

    matched by representations of roaring lions

    seen in profile.

    An olpe preserved in the Etruscan museum

    in Florence (5) is decorated with animals

    arranged in four rows (registri). We find

    there examples of both modes of representa?

    tion. We would mention as prototypes of

    fontal representation, the aryballoi of the

    Louvre (E 436) and of the University of

    Dunedin, an amphora in the Art Gallery of

    Yale University, some goblets and ampho

    riskoi. Some of the aryballoi of Florence and

    famous alabaster belonging to Yale Univer?

    sity (6) are decorated with felids presented in


    This parallelism found in the decorations

    of Corinthian ceramics once more offers

    indirect evidence for the identification of the

    meaning of the representations on the strength

    of which both may possibly belong to an epoch

    even more remote than that of the mythical

    age, a reflex of which may be noted even in

    the later iconographical developments I have

    referred to, in which almost all trace of the

    original meanings and consequently of the

    original emotions had been lost.

    On the other hand, a singular documentary

    proof is offered by the so-called (< Stone of the

    lions ?, Arslan-tash, at Hailan-Veli in Phry

    gia (7) It is a basrelief on which two lions

    rampart, facing one another, are represented,

    both seen in profile, and between them is an

    image presumably related to the betilic cult.

    The composition is almost identical to that of

    the Gate of the Lions; only at Mycaenae the

    faces of the lions are seen in the frontal

    position. In this case the parallelism is more

    than ever evident. The identity in meaning

    of the frontal and profile representations is

    thus once more confirmed.

    A more thorough examination of this same

    motif of predatory animals, the study of which

    has enabled me to come to these conclusions,

    may lead us to enlarge somewhat the horizon

    directly connected with the Gorgon.

    Indeed, the study of a large number of these

    representations shows that the predatory qua?

    druped (the lion) may easily be replaced by a


    In some of the ceramics from Susa and in

    many goblets from Cyprus belonging to the

    Mycaenaean age, often ascribed to the so-called

    Bull Painter of Enkomi, the animal is clearly

    a bird of prey.

    One of these is in the British Museum (8).

    It shows a bull with lowered head about to

    charge, while a bird attacks it, fastening its

    beak on the bull's neck and stretching out its

    claws. The scene is repeated twice on the

    goblet without any noticeable alteration in the

    composition. The only changes are in the

    ornamental marks which fill the threefold

    divisions of the bull's body. A similar scene

    is found on two other goblets from Klavdia,

    now in the British Museum. Lastly, an

    amphoroid goblet, discovered by the Swedish

    Mission at Enkomi, is decorated with a design

    of eight bulls all intent on driving off a flock

    of birds who have attacked them (9).

    The interpretation of representations of this

    kind offered by Karagheorghis might perhaps

    be valid, but only if the scene of the bull and

    the birds were an exclusive feature of the

    Mycaenaean ceramics from Cyprus, and if the

    Lion by profile, from a Corinthian alabaster. Art Gallery,

    Yale University


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  • 7/26/2019 Gorgon furio jesi
















    Lion, front view, from a Corinthian alabaster. University

    bird of prey were not found in the iconography

    of other civilisations. The Greek archaeologist

    believes that the artist was probably inspired

    when composing his design by a scene of

    common occurrence in the countryside of

    Cyprus where herds of bulls are often tormen?

    ted by swarms of insects which are generally

    eaten by magpies, who thus deliver the herds

    from their tormentors. But in doing so the

    birds have to peck the bulls who, annoyed by

    this, try to drive them off.

    A comparison with the ceramics from Susa

    justifies me in seeing in the design I have just

    described a representation closely resembling

    the decorations on those ceramics and which

    must therefore be one of the many predatory

    m otifs.

    The image referred to by Karagheorghis

    should be considered as an occasional way of

    expressing a different motif: it can be explain?

    ed by the usual mechanism of the theory of

    archetypal connections.

    of Amsterdam

    The possibility of making use sometimes of

    the lion and sometimes of the bird in repre?

    senting the predatory motif is matched

    moreover by the frequency with which some

    fanciful animal such as a griffin is used to re?

    present the bird of prey, In the griffin, indeed,

    the characteristic features of the lion and of

    the bird are combined, one or other alternately

    taking the leading part.

    In the great Etruscan candelabrum of Cor

    tona (10) the Gorgon's head is surrounded by

    a circle of designs representing the beasts of

    prey: on one side a bull is attacked by a f elid

    (a lion), and on the other by a characteristic

    winged griffin.

    A deer (?) attacked by two winged griffins

    with the characteristic features of a bird and

    of a lion, is represented on a silver amphora

    coming from Nikopolis in South Russia (11),

    part of which is gilded.

    Lastly, another example of a griffin as a

    predatory animal is offered by a mosaic of the

    4th century B.C. now in the Museum of

    Corinth 12).

    The possibility of replacing the lion by a

    bird in the predatory motif, presupposes a

    marked affinity ? if not identity ? of mean?

    ing attached to the two animals in the idea

    Lion, front view, from a Corinthian amphora. Art Gallery,

    Yale University


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  • 7/26/2019 Gorgon furio jesi


    Figuration of the ? piun- ?^?- ^/g^^^^^ XH^IHIk ^EBR

    derer?. Ancient Metro- ^^^^^HHg^^^^Afc - -^J^fifl

    underlying the transformations introduced

    into the Gorgon motif.

    In addition to this, we have come across a

    special demoniacal figure belonging to Etruscan

    mythology, usually portrayed in a way which

    may give rise to some further considerations

    on the same subject.

    The image of a winged demon has been

    preserved in the tomb of the Ogre at Tarqui

    nia. It has a large beak which it has thrust

    into a broad flat face of relatively anthropo?

    morphic shape. The head is crowned by wiry

    hair out of which two serpents arise while

    another serpent is coiled round the arm of the

    demon. An inscription above the figure gives

    its name: Tuchulcha (13).

    The (haracteristcs of the bird as an expres?

    sion of the daimon are very clearly indicated.

    The special care taken in depicting them,

    points to a marked interest in the morbidly

    terrifying developments of which the image

    was susceptible. Here again, as in the figures

    of the Gorgon, the serpent plays a specific part

    and, taken as a whole and considered from

    the iconographic standpoint only, the two

    images seem closely akin.

    We can at least recognize in them motifs

    held in common by both and indeed the whole

    purpose of this study is to prove the existence

    of certain archetypal motifs which authorise

    one to speak of a special symbolism, motifs

    which intermingle, are assimilated and identi?

    fied in the mythical unconscience of each of

    the individuals who have created them. Thus

    what may be described as a rhythmological

    determination of a biotype common to both is


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  • 7/26/2019 Gorgon furio jesi


    obtained, as far as the original emotions

    underlying each myth are concerned. And

    each image ? in this case images of animals ?

    is found to be linked to another. This gives

    rise to a reciprocal relation between them, due

    to the existence of an archetypal connection,

    and therefore each image may be considered

    as expressing the meaning and the reason of

    the other, and viceversa.

    The connection in question ? to state it in

    the terms of my theory of the archetypal

    connections in the origin of myths ? is seen

    to be the result of a quite special emotional

    phenomenon. This phenomenon is, indeed,

    an unconscious one, of which the connection

    is the conscious manifestation. The passage

    of this connection from potential to effective

    as the result of the occurrence of an uncon?

    scious phenomenon, is conditioned by the

    special features of the rhythmological envi?


    Demoniacal image. S. Petronio, Cappella dei Re Magt.


    The characteristics of the bird, which can

    be noted also in many representations of the

    Gorgon, are found again in an image akin to

    it coming from New Zealand. It is one of the

    usual hei-tiki figures, carved in this case on

    the facade of a house (14). The body of the

    monster is intentionally distorted and contrac?

    ted on conventional lines. The lower part of

    the head consists of an enormous mouth,

    strangely resembling that of the corresponding

    representation of the Gorgon, with protruding

    tongue; the upper lip so folded as to suggest

    a beak. Above the mouth are flat, animal?

    like nostrils, and the diagonally shaped eyes

    under two very high eyebrows emphasise the

    demoniacal expression. Two little flakes of

    mother o'pearl imitate in a masterly way the

    pupils of the eyes, staring straight ahead. In

    Head of Gorgon, Amphora of the Gorgon. Museum of Eleusis

    this image we find the same features as in that

    of the Gorgon, except for the serpent. From

    New Zealand comes also a toki hohupu made

    of jade with an image, no less demoniacal in

    character, resembling in part the griffins of

    Etruscan iconography to which we have already

    referred. It is also designed in conformity

    with the conventions characteristic of the art

    of the Maoris.


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  • 7/26/2019 Gorgon furio jesi


    The anthropomorphic features are always

    present in these demoniacal compositions;

    indeed, all the theriomorphic features are

    fused and dramatised in an anthropomophic

    design in which the corresponding human

    features are presented with demoniacal defor?

    mations. Attention must be called to this fact

    if we wish to have a full understanding of the

    importance of the Gorgon as shown by two

    representations of kindred divinities. The first

    is that of the god Bes, who occupies a special

    place in the Egyptian Pantheon, and who may

    have been introduced into it in a very remote

    age (15). He is represented in the charac?

    teristic shape of a deformed dwarf, and this

    leads us to suspect an African origin, a sup?

    position confirmed by some iconographic

    features of which we will now speak.

    His head which, as he is the protector of

    many objects in common use is frequently

    represented, comes within the number of de?

    moniacal images related to that of the Gorgon,

    displaying more or less leonine features. Here,

    however, the anthromorphic features prevail,

    though the face often recalls the frontal view

    of a lion; the tongue hangs out of the large

    mouth and the expression is that of a brute


    The face of the god of the Mahalbis (16),

    Edschu, resembles that of Bes, though more

    decisively anthropomorphic. The fact that it

    is placed beside and above the images of the

    Universe leads us to suppose that a meaning

    similar to that assigned to the Gorgon was

    attributed to it, and this supposition is con?

    firmed by iconographic resemblances.

    It would thus seem that all the mythical

    archetypal motifs (lion, bird, serpent, etc.),

    reveal reciprocal relations existing between all

    of them, arising from archetypal connections,

    which, with the subsequent changes in the

    meaning given them, were transmitted right

    down the Middle Ages without losing their

    essential characteristics. One need only observe

    the leonine patterns woven into some materials

    dating back to the early Middle Ages, the

    demoniacal motifs dear to Gothic iconography,

    etc., to confirm this. But along with these

    shapes we always find the human image (17)

    which indeed is frequently the predominant

    feature, for all the theromorphic features are

    modified to bring them within its scope.

    The representation of the divinity with its

    universal attributes is confined within the

    limits of an image which is generically that of

    a human being.

    Hei tiki, of Uriwera Tribe, New Zealand. Pigorini Museum,


    This is a fact of special importance for the

    history of religions, as it throws light on the

    reciprocal relations existing between the mean?

    ings attributed to the images of animals and

    to the representations of the human figure, as

    conceived in most of the rhythmological


    Furio Jesi

    NOT S

    (1) An Attic Pithos of the 6th century B.C.

    (2) Frobenius, Kulturgeschichte Afrikas. Prolegomena zu

    einer historischen Gestaltlehre, Italian translation by C. Bo

    vero, (Turin, 1950) p. 144.

    (3) Robinson, American Journal of Archaeology, LX, 1,

    (1956) 1-27, Tab. 13, figg. 61-62.

    (4) Description given in the Guide to Eleusis, in Greek,

    by Kourouniotis, (Athens 1924).

    (5) Benson, American Journal of Archaeology, LX, 3

    (1956), 219-231, Tab. 70, fig. 11-12.

    (6) Idem, Tab. 71-73.

    (7) A photograph of a bas-relief, taken from the Journ.

    of Hell Stud, and reproduced in Springer's a Handbook of

    the History of Art ? in the Italian translation by A. Delia

    Seta, Vol. 1, fig. 167.

    (8) Karagheorghis, American Journal of Archaeology, LX,

    2, (1956) 95-102, Tab. 56, fig. 3-4.

    (9) Sj?qvist, Problems of the late Cypriote Bronze Age,

    fig. 21.

    (10) Museum of Cortona, N. 10332.

    (11) Springer, op. cit. p. 222, fig. 392.

    (12) Comes from the excavations carried out by the

    Mission of the American School of Classical Studies at

    Athens; described in the Guide to the Museum, 1935.

    (13) The fresco dates back to the Vth century B.C.

    (14) Grottanelli, La figura umana nelVarte dei primi

    tivi, (Florence, 1956), fig. 41.

    (15) Erman, Die Religion der Aegypter. Ihr Werden und

    Vergehen in vier Jahrtausenden, (Berlin und Leipzig, 1934);

    Cfr. Vandier, La religion egyptienne, (Paris, 1949), pp. 220

    221; Jesi, ? Bes initiateur. Elements destitutions prehis

    toriques dans le culte et dans la magie de l'ancienne Egypte?,

    V. Internationaler Kongress f?r Vor- und Fr?hgeschichte,

    (Hamburg, 1958).

    (16) Frobenius, op. cit. p. 236, fig. 122-123.

    (17) An example of possible human representations in

    wich the essential features are identifiable with those of

    theromorphic images, is offered by the well-known type of

    terracotta idols coming from Troy. See K?hn, Abstrakte

    Kunst der Vohrzeit, (Hanover, 1957).


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