Lot 2: Roman Altar Pillar with Hekate Surrounded by Nymphs
December 6, 2016
London, United KingdomLive Auction
Description: 2nd-3rd century AD. An Eastern Empire marble altar with rectangular base three figures of females dressed in peplos representing triple goddess Hecate (Hekate) surrounded by four smaller figures of nymphs, three dancing and once playing aulos; inscription to one side: In the 7th (?) year. For the continuance of Kl(a)udios. ......akos (the name of the dedicator"). At the behest of Artemis .....; provincial workmanship. For a Hellenistic altar pillar to Hekate and the Graces see The Glyptothek Museum, Munich, inventory number 60; Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession Number: 1987.11.2. Accompanied by an Art Loss Register certificate. 20.7 kg, 69cm (27"). Property of a European gentleman living in London; acquired in the UK 1981. Hekate was a Greek goddess who possibly originated in Asia Minor, and was later adapted also in Roman religion. As an underworld deity, she was associated with witchcraft and necromancy, often depicted holding the keys to the underworld and a flaming torch to light her way during her nocturnal travels. Her animal attendants were snakes and dogs, both associated with the underworld, and black dogs were sacrificed to her. In spite of her nature, she was relatively popular and worshipped goddess, with a small altar to her in front of every house in Athens. Hekate was also worshipped as the goddess of crossroads, traditional meeting place for ghosts and witches over who she held a patronage. She is commonly mentioned on curse tablets and magical papyri as a deity who will carry out maleficent spells. In literal sources, she appears in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter and in Hesiod's Theogony, where she is promoted as a great goddess. In the second to third century AD writings of the Chaldean Oracles, she was regarded as a ruler over earth, sea and sky, as well as a more universal role as Saviour, Mother of Angels and the Cosmic World Soul. The dedication to Artemis on the altar most likely refers to Hecate's function as a moon goddess. If Hecate's cult spread from Anatolia into Greece, it is possible that it created a religious conflict, as her role was already filled by other more prominent deities in the Greek pantheon, above all by Artemis and Selene. The triple form could be a result of religious compromise, including Hecate in the pantheon of already established moon goddesses. In one version of her origin, Hecate is a mortal priestess often associated with Iphigeneia. She scorns and insults Artemis, who in retribution eventually brings about the mortal's suicide. According to Strabo, there was an area sacred to Hecate in the precincts of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, where the priests, megabyzi, officiated.
Condition Report: Very fine condition. Rare.