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Description:

Mysia, Kyzikos EL Stater. Circa 500-450 BC. Half-length bust of a winged female deity to left, wearing kekryphalos headdress, round earring and long-sleeved chiton, in her right hand holding a tunny fish by the tail, and raising a flower to her chin; bust truncation indicated by dotted line between parallel lines / Quadripartite incuse square. Von Fritze 75; SNG France 205; Boston MFA 1448 = Warren 1519. 16.20g, 23mm.

Very Fine. Very Rare.

The winged figure on this coin of Kyzikos is most frequently simply described as a 'winged female', though on occasion numismatists have ventured to suggest that the depiction is that of a harpy, one of the mythical 'snatchers' who were sent by the gods to torment Phineos, the blind seer-king of Thrace, for his transgressions. Though in the Homeric poems the harpies are nothing more than the personifications of storm winds, Hesiod (c. 750-650 BC) described them as the daughters of Thaumas by the Oceanid Electra; fair-haired and winged maidens, who surpassed the winds and birds in the rapidity of their flight. Archaic pottery depicts them thus, in a manner that closely resembles the winged figures on the coins of Kaunos in Karia - see in particular Wagner Museum L164 – black figure clay vase. It was only later tradition that portrayed the harpies as hideous half-woman, half-bird creatures - a development resulting from a confusion of harpies with sirens. By the time of Aeschylus (c. 525-455 BC), this transformation was largely complete, though the harpy's 'beautiful' image is still occasionally seen as late as 480 BC - see the J. Paul Getty Museum hydria/kalpis by Kleophrades, on which the harpies are rendered as young winged girls.

The identification of the winged figure on this stater as a harpy is therefore possible, though other identifications are equally plausible. Iris, goddess of the rainbow, was depicted as a winged woman with a herald's staff, as likewise was Nike, though the latter usually carried a wreath or palm. However, none of these beings was associated with flowers, which above all were an attribute of Aphrodite and Kore-Persephone.

Only one parallel for the present type exists in surviving Greek art: the 5th century BC funerary stele now known as 'The Exaltation of the Flower', held in the Louvre. Carved in a similarly severe archaic style, the stele depicts two female figures holding up flowers; the left figure in a pose very similar to that shown on this coin. Those figures have been identified either as unknown mortals, or as Demeter and her daughter Persephone - the view favoured by its discoverer Léon Heuzey. The wings on our figure clearly identify her as a goddess though, and the flower is most likely the key to understanding her identity. Kore-Persephone, daughter of Demeter, therefore seems to be a logical choice: she was gathering flowers when Hades came to abduct her, and her return to earth each year was heralded by the blossoming of the meadows. Her overwhelming prominence on the later coinage of Kyzikos further strengthens the case for her depiction here.

Mysia, Kyzikos EL Stater. (rxiv198)

Price: £7,368.00

  • US $9,719.13
  • EUR €8,266.16
  • AUD $12,426.87
  • CHF 9,575.45
  • CAD $12,270.67
  • (Rates for 23/10/2017)
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