Jupiter and Eagle

By
Michele Asuni
Michele Asuni is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Classics at Johns Hopkins University. Before coming to Hopkins, he received a BA and an MA, both in Classical Philology and Ancient History, from the University of Pisa. Primarily a Hellenist, his main interests lie in archaic and classical Greek literature and culture, textual criticism, and Silver Latin. He is currently completing a dissertation on the aesthetics of color in Greek literature, from Homer to Heliodorus.

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  • Accession Number: JHUAM HT 333
  • Measurements: Length: 15.2cm, Width: 9.5cm
  • Material: Ceramic
  • Culture/Date: Roman, Mid 1st c. CE
  • Provenance: Unknown

 

The discus is decorated with a male figure (Jupiter) holding a staff or scepter.  In front of Jupiter, one sees an eagle carrying a thunderbolt.  In Greek and Roman mythology, the eagle served as Jupiter’s personal messenger, and it is said to have carried the youth Ganymede to Olympus, where he served as the gods’ cupbearer.  Pliny the Elder also describes the eagle as one of the signa militaria, or “military symbols” (NH 10.6).  As a symbol of Jupiter’s authority, an eagle would be set free during the consecration of an emperor—a ritual that culminated in his apotheosis.  By flying into the air, the eagle was believed to carry the soul of the deified emperor to heaven, thus securing him a place among the gods.

Similar decorations can be found in other lamps of the same period: see for example this lamp in the British Museum.

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