Ancient Roman Zeus and Ganymede Mosaic

Ancient Roman Zeus and Ganymede Mosaic

Period: Third to fourth century CE
Dimensions: 89” x 63” (226 x 160 cm) Weight 87 kg
Condition: No restoration except those tesserae missing. Exceptional condition with respect to the age of this wonderful mosaic. Considerable use of precious glass tesserae in the bushes and Ganymede’s raiment.
Provenance: Provenance: Formerly the property of a European gentleman who acquired it between 1970 and 1980 from a licensed dealer in Lebanon. Documentation available from import of his collection to the United States in 1988.
Exceptional and Very Important Late Roman Mosaic
The mosaic represents the abduction of Ganymede by the mighty god Zeus who took the aspect of an Eagle. The scene taking place in a country yard which Ganymede, a shepherd, frequented to feed his animals. Plants, tree and rocks are visible. Classic use of ocean wave pattern in border. In Greek mythology, Zeus is the Olympian god of the sky and thunder, the king of all gods and men, consequently the chief figure in Greek mythology.

Besides all his attributes, Zeus was known to be a promiscuous God. Bearing the shape of different animals, he had numerous love affairs with many nymphs and mortals. Europa myth: Zeus was enamored of Europa, mother of King Minos of Crete and of high lineage herself. In an effort to seduce her or ravish her, he transformed himself into a tame white bull and mixed in Europa’s father’s herd. When Europa saw the wonderful bull she caressed his flanks and eventually got onto his back. Zeus took that opportunity, ran to the sea and swam with her to the island of Crete. (The Iliad provides us earliest literary reference to this tale, dating to the 8th century BCE.)
Leda Myth: On another occasion, according to Greek mythology, the god Zeus in the form of a swan seduced Leda, Queen of Sparta, and on the same night she slept with her husband King Tyndareus of Sparta. Leda bore twin girls - Helen, daughter of Zeus, and Clytemnestra, daughter of Tyndareus, and the Polydeuces (twin brothers) Pollux, demi-god child of Zeus, and Castor, son of Tyndareus. (I think that Zeus must have slept with Leda on more than one occasion to generate so many births; then again he was a god!!)

Finally, the third story is about Ganymede and the Eagle*: Ganymede was described by Homer in the Iliad, the earliest literary source for the tale as the most beautiful of mortals. “The immortals, awestruck by his beauty” snatch him “to bear the cup of Zeus.” His homeland was Troy. Once again, Zeus could not restrain himself. According to Greek mythology Ganymede was abducted by Zeus in the form of an eagle from Mount Ida near Troy in Phrygia and taken to Olympus. He had been tending sheep. In the Iliad, Zeus is said to have compensated Ganymede’s father Tros, King of Dardania, by the gift of fine horses, delivered by the messenger god Hermes. Tros was consoled that his son was now immortal and would be the cupbearer of the gods, a position of much distinction. In Olympus, Zeus granted him eternal youth and immortality.

*”Whether the eagle is understood to be Zeus or not varies according to the literary sources. Pliny’s wording suggests that the eagle acted on the command of Zeus… It is in Ovid’s Metamorphoses that the chief Olympian takes the form of an eagle to steal away the Trojan boy for whom he burns with love. Virgil envisions the royal boy with a javelin and cites Mount Ida as the place from which he is carried aloft. Nothing in the Paphian scene indicates that the eagle is, in fact, Zeus, but such associations were surely rife in the viewer’s mind. Very few of the Ganymede representations dwell on the erotic aspects of the tale: instead they dramatize a mythological event.”
Ref: “Domestic and Divine, Christine Kondoleon, Cornell University Press 1994

Curiously, the theme of Ganymede serving wine to Zeus in his eagle shape was employed in dining scenes in luxurious settings when extravagant meals were to be served. Some Ganymede mosaics were designed to be obscured while the food was served and then unveiled when the serious drinking and entertainment was to start.
(Ref: “Antioch, Lost Ancient City, Christine Kondoleon, Princeton University Press, 2000)

Mosaic is mounted on honeycomb, an expensive process that allows it to weigh one third of a conventional treatment in cement.