Thursday, 8 January 2015

Snake-legged Giant

Another new coin!  This one, rather crude in execution, shows an odd event.  The goddess Athena is fighting a creature with snakes for legs.

This is always described as a "snake-legged giant."  That is rather odd, given that the creature is about half as tall as the goddess, and Athena was usually shown as being around the same height as a man.

But there is a misunderstanding involved.  "Giant" here comes from the word "Γιγαντεσ" or Gigantes, the name of a group of earth-born creatures, offspring of Gaia, who were originally not supposed to be oversized or monstrous at all. In myth, they got involved in a fight with the gods, the so-called Gigantomachy. 

It was only in later depictions that they acquired snake legs and sometimes large size.

Perhaps this "giant" is small because there is limited room on the coin.  The legend has been squeezed in, and had to be finished off by cramming the last few letters into the space behind Athena, and even then it has been abbreviated.  This reverse legend reads "CEΛEVKEΩN KAΛVKAΔ" - Seleukewn Kalukad - which means that the coin comes from Seleukeia ad Kalykadnon in Silicia.

We know this is Athena, goddess of wisdom and war, because she is wearing her typical dress and helmet and carrying her shield with the head of the gorgon Medusa mounted on it (the Aegis).  The spear-thrusting pose is a commonly shown stance.

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