Cyprus, Kition - Divinely Inspired Heroic Triumph

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Various attempts have been made to explain the meaning of the lion attack motif, often centred on possible astrological or cosmological significances, or associations with particular deities. One interpretation that has gained traction in recent years is that the motif is apotropaic in nature, serving to ward off evil in a similar function to the gorgoneion, which like the lion attack motif is very prevalent in ancient Greek coinage, though there is little evidence to support such a notion.

G. E. Markoe ('The Lion Attack in Archaic Greek Art', Classical Antiquity Vol. 8, 1, 1989) convincingly suggests that a more likely explanation may be found in the examination of archaic Greek epic poetry, particularly in Homeric literature, wherein a lion attacking cattle or sheep is repeatedly employed as a simile for the aggression and valour of combatant heroes. In notable passages, Agamemnon's victorious advance against the Trojans in the Iliad (11.113ff and 129) and Hektor's successful pursuit of the Achaeans (15.630ff) are both likened to a lion triumphing over its hapless prey. In both of these cases the allusion is completed by the defeated being compared to fleeing prey animals. In all, there are twenty five examples present in the Iliad of heroic warriors being compared to leonine aggressors, with the victims variously compared to boars, sheep, goats, bulls or deer. The repetition of this literary device is clearly demonstrative of how deeply rooted the imagery was in the Greek (and perhaps more generally human) consciousness. Of further and great significance is the involvement of the gods as the primary instigators of heroic leonine aggression in almost every case, and as it is made clear that the lion itself is an animal that is divinely directed to its prey (11.480, by a daimon), so then is the lion attack a metaphor for divinely inspired heroic triumph.

Greek art of the seventh century BC frequently pairs the motif with a scene of heroic triumph. On the New York Nessos amphora for example, the image of a lion attacking a deer is prominently displayed above the main scene, which shows Herakles defeating the centaur Nessos. The present coin therefore represents a continuation of the artistic response to a heroic literary tradition expressed in Homeric poetry.

Cyprus, Kition AR Stater. Baalmelek II, circa 425-400 BC. Herakles in fighting stance to right, wearing lion skin upon his back and tied around neck, holding club overhead in right hand and bow extended before him in left hand; monogram or ankh to right / Lion attacking stag crouching right; L B'LMLK (in Aramaic) above; all inside dotted border within incuse square. Tziambazis 19; Babelon, Perses 678; BMC 35; Sunrise 110 (this coin). 10.75g, 25mm, 3h.

Extremely Fine. Rare. Exceptional state of preservation - apparently the finest known example of the type, which is otherwise nearly uniformly badly struck and preserved.

Ex Gorny & Mosch 185, 8 March 2010, lot 176.