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Aphrodite in New York November 24, 2003
by Mark Rose

Tracing the course of Hellenism in Cyprus

[image]Divers recovered this statue of Aphrodite Anadyomene (emerging from the sea) off Nea Paphos in 1956. The statue, in the tradition of the Greek sculptor Praxiteles, is of late Hellenistic date, the first century B.C. Its preserved height is 85 cm (about 33.5 inches). (Courtesy Alexander S. Onassis Benefit Foundation (USA)) [LARGER IMAGE]

You don't want to miss From Ishtar to Aphrodite: 3200 Years of Cypriot Hellenism. Treasures from the Cyprus Museum now at the Onassis Cultural Center in New York. An outstanding exhibition, From Ishtar to Aphrodite looks at the course Hellenism in Cyprus, the eastern Mediterranean's crossroads of cultures and the mythological birthplace of Aphrodite. The 85 artifacts on display are exceptional in themselves and most have never been seen outside of Cyprus before, including a first-century marble torso of Aphrodite that is the exhibition's hallmark. If you are in New York before From Ishtar to Aphrodite closes on January 3, 2004, you should make the time to see it. This is a unique opportunity.

Sophocles Hadjisavvas, director of the Department of Antiquities, summarizes the exhibition's theme in his introduction to the accompanying catalog:

The long journey of the bloodthirsty goddess of sexuality, Ishtar, from the Fertile Crescent (Mesopotamia) to the island of Cyprus can be traced through various stages of transformation. In Syria and Palestine she is known as Astarte, whereas in Cyprus she acquires all the attributes of the goddess of love, Aphrodite. ...The transformation of the goddess symbolizes an island society embraced and influenced by the great civilizations of the East as it evolved into the easternmost bastion of Hellenism.
Aphrodite's antecedent, this terra-cotta figurine (Late Cypriot II, ca. 1450-1200) combines aspects of earlier Cypriot fertility images with aspects (such as the placement of the hands) derived from Syrian and Mesopotamian goddesses. Its oversize, flat ears are pierced and once held terra-cotta earrings. (Courtesy Alexander S. Onassis Benefit Foundation (USA)) [LARGER IMAGE] [image]

The artifacts displayed and accompanying information panels trace these developments over the centuries. The cosmopolitan nature of Cyprus in the Late Bronze Age is emphasized through rich burials of the fourteenth century B.C., the time of the first commercial expansion of Mycenaean Greeks to the island. The end of the fourteenth century saw the introduction of ashlar buildings, based on Syrian prototypes, to the island. Toward the end of the Bronze Age, in the eleventh century, Cyprus received an influx of Greeks from the Aegean, who Hadjisavvas describes as "people who fled from the collapsing Mycenaean world." In ninth century, new peoples arrived, Phoenician colonists from the east, bringing with them distinctive styles of pottery and terra-cotta figurines. The overlying and blending of various cultures with the Cypriot Greek based continued until Alexander's day, after which the island was more and more absorbed into the shared Hellenistic culture of the times.

[image] [image] [image]
The cosmopolitan nature of Cypriot culture in the Late Bronze Age is attested by grave offerings from tombs at Kalavassos-Ayios Dimitrios including a silver Hittite figurine from Anatolia, a glass vessel from Egypt, and a Mycenaean pot from the Aegean. (Courtesy Alexander S. Onassis Benefit Foundation (USA))

Complementing the displays is an excellent catalog. Jennifer Webb (La Trobe University, Melbourne) examines the link between Ishtar and Aphrodite, from the fusion of early Cypriot precursors of the goddess with Near Eastern goddesses worshiped by the Phoenicians, Assyrians, and Persians. Webb notes how the Greeks adopted the goddess, who returned to the island in fully Hellenic guise in the fourth century B.C. Other essays in the catalog look at Cyprus in the context of the eastern Mediterranean, monumental ashlar buildings of Syrian inspiration, and the island as ancient "melting pot" (Hadjisavvas); Late Bronze Age origins of Cypriot Hellenism (Maria Iacovou, University of Cyprus); Hellensim of Cypriot limestone sculpture (Antoine Hermary, Université de Provence); and Cyprus under the Ptolemaic Dynasty of later Egypt (Aristodemos Anastassides, Ministry of Education and Culture, Cyprus). Especially welcome is a brief chapter on Tomb 11 at Kalavassos-Ayios Dimitrios by Alison South, who directed the excavation of the site. Although all the artifacts in this exhibition are impressive, 20 objects come from this single wealthy tomb dated to 1400-1375. They include gold jewelry, Cypriot pottery, five Mycenaean pots imported from mainland Greece, and an Egyptian miniature glass vessel. This suite of artifacts, which accompanied the burials of three young woman (one 19-20 years old, and two slightly earlier interments of women aged 21 to 24 and about 17 years), highlights the wide-ranging influences on Cypriot culture, as well as the culture's own achievements, in the middle of the Late Bronze Age.

[image]This Late Cypro-Archaic (late seventh century B.C.) terra-cotta figure of a woman wearing a long garment, "turban," and three necklaces is from the sanctuary at Arsos. Identified as priestesses, such figures have also been found at sanctuaries in the eastern Aegean, of Hera on Samos and of Athena on Rhodes, linking Cyprus with that region. (Courtesy Alexander S. Onassis Benefit Foundation (USA)) [LARGER IMAGE]

After closing in New York, From Ishtar to Aphrodite moves to Athens (2004), and then on to London. The exhibit follows several notable recent offerings of at the Onassis Cultural Center: Silent Witnesses (spring 2002) on the Early Bronze Age of the Cyclades, Post-Byzantium: The Greek Renaissance (fall 2002), and The New Acropolis Museum (spring 2003). Replacing From Ishtar to Aphrodite for the beginning of 2004 is Coming of Age in Ancient Greece. Organized by Dartmouth's Hood Museum of Art, the exhibition will include a special section about the Olympics when it is at the Onassis Center.

Found in 1979, this model of a chariot was deliberately broken or "killed" before being placed in a Cypro-Classical I (fifth century B.C.) tomb in the Phoenician cemetery of Kition. The model shows two male figures in a chariot, their different sizes indicating different status: the larger figure is distinguished by a tall headdress, the smaller figure is the nobleman's charioteer. Only three of the four horses remain. A mixed Greek and Phoenician population at Kition, a Phoenician colony from the ninth century onward, is attested by funerary inscriptions. [LARGER IMAGE] [image]

From Ishtar to Aphrodite is free and open Monday-Saturday, 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. The Onassis Cultural Center is located in the Olympic Tower, 645 Fifth Avenue, between 51st and 52nd streets. (The Hellenic Museums Shop, newly opened off the lobby, offers books of archaeological interest and replicas and modern interpretations of artifacts and artworks in Greek museums.) For more on the Alexander S. Onassis Benefit Foundation (USA), the Onassis Cultural Center, and exhibitions there, see www.onassisusa.org.

Mark Rose is executive editor of ARCHAEOLOGY.

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© 2003 by the Archaeological Institute of America
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