Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Hippocampus, Seen but Rarely Heard About

It’s time once again for another Wednesday.  And, that means yet another mythological monster brought from the shadows of time-long-past into the light.

Near the Aegean Sea, the Etruscans held a significant maritime presence and date back to at least 1000BC. Within their mythology is a curious creature known as the hippocampus. Part house—part fish, the hippocampus is a creature that has survived to the modern age as much in form as by stories. Various artistic representations of hippocampi (plural) can be found as statues, in mosaic displays, and in paintings.

The mythology of this rarely talked about creature appears to have migrated from Etruscan to Greek lands. According to Homer, Poseidon’s see fairing chariot was drawn by great horses whose hooves where made of brass, but like so many Greek stories, there are always discrepancies. Other authors and artists have depicted Poseidon, instead, pulled by or even astride a hippocampus. This is no surprise. Sailors who worshipped Poseidon out of fear and necessity for their safety were own to drown horses as offerings to the power and vengeful god.

The hippocampus was also the theme of several heraldic shields, as were many of the ancient and powerful monsters of mythology.

It should be also noted that although the hippocampus survived into Greek mythos, many other fish-hybrids from the Etruscans did not seem to be as far reaching. Among them were hybrids of lions (leokampoi), leopards (leokampoi), goats (aigikampoi – such as the astrological sign and constellation Capricorn), and bulls (taurokampoi).

There is little more written, but the imagery in both ancient and modern times is stunning.

1 comment:

  1. I am such a giant fan of your Wednesday mythological creatures posts! I wish you'd take it back up. I was drawn to your site looking up pictures of the hippocamp, which I was telling a colleague about from my time in my Etruscan class in undergrad. I remember a depiction of the hippocamp being ridden by a person to some sort of island, and because of the other depictions on the vessel, it was thought it was maybe some belief that the hippocamp was one of the guides to the underworld!


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