An Illustration of the Greek Notion of “Head” as “Source” -- By: Catherine Kroeger

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 01:3 (Aug 1987)
Article: An Illustration of the Greek Notion of “Head” as “Source”
Author: Catherine Kroeger

An Illustration of the Greek Notion of “Head” as “Source”

Catherine Kroeger

Many of our readers write to ask for new insights, information, and resources about biblical feminism. The Chinese say that one peep is worth ten thousand words. Cindy McKeen kindly supplied us with the accompanying illustration; and for those anxious for new material, it may well be worth its weight in gold. The statuette which the drawing depicts does not strike one as a first-class piece of art. To be quite truthful, it seems somewhat clumsy; and the concept of one woman standing upon the head of another is downright grotesque. Nevertheless, this piece and the forty-odd similar executions of this same motif have much to tell us. Usually two which were almost identical were found together, but there are differences in form and decoration between those found in different grave-sites. Always the woman stood within the crown upon the lower female head.

Terracotta statuettes of this design were placed in tombs, much as we might place a floral offering upon a grave to-day. The burials took place about three hundred years before the birth of Christ, in an area of southern Italy where Greek colonists embraced Pythagoreanism and Orphism. The same tombs contained lovely examples of traditional Greek art, graceful and well executed; and some of these fine works of art came from the very same workshops which had created pieces similar to that in our illustration.

Archaeologists soon realized that the strange little statues, so inferior to other objects in the tomb hordes, contained a religious message, rather than an artistic one. Oddly, the upper figure was delicately draped in the fashion of the charming Tanagran style of terracottas, while the lower head was more crude—“semi-archaic,” as one archaeologist put it. The colors on the upper figure were subtle and muted, those on the lower head more garish. The marked contrast seemed to indicate two different realms of existence.

Greek tombs in southern Italy, especially around the town of Canosa, abounded in objects which portrayed the religious beliefs of the community. They are valuable because they reveal some of the secrets of” the so-called mystery religions which promised salvation and immortality to the initiates. Many of these highly ornamented vessels and statues portrayed the voyage of the soul to celestial regions, and one especially famous vase from Canosa showed the arrival of the blessed dead at the throne of Hades and Persephone in the underworld. It was this vase upon which the German scholar Bachofen based his study of ancient Orphism.

In the genre of statuary here illustrated, the lower head appears to be that of Persephone, goddess of the underworld. Many of you may remember the story of how she was kidnapped by Hades, king of the realm of t...

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