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Emma Aston

Section Three : Mixanthropy and representation


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1In the final four chapters of the book, I shall explore the relationship which existed between mixanthropic beings and the idea and the process of artistic representation. This will present an explanatory background to the observation which dominated Chapters 4 to 6: the importance in the depiction of mixanthropic deities of themes of movement, absence and loss. It will be argued that much light may be shed on these themes and their importance by examining the rôle of visual representation of mixanthropic deities. This will lead the discussion at times into quite general territory. As has been noted, a great proportion of the mixanthropic imagery which survives from the ancient world has no explicit link with cult, depicting not deities but monsters and fabulous beings, sometimes named, sometimes anonymous. However, it is the contention of this section that the decorative and representational aspect of mixanthropy generally has great bearing on the nature and function of mixanthropic deities.

  • 1 Phleg. peri Thaum. 35.

2By its very nature, a mixanthrope of any kind places particular emphasis on visual representation. After all, mixanthropes do not exist in everyday life. The Greeks – some Greeks – may have believed that centaurs roamed the hills of Thessaly and that Pan haunted Arkadia’s wilder parts. Phlegon of Tralles1 may have had no difficulty in imagining centaurs in distant Arabian Saune. But the ancients were well aware that such beings did not come within the scope of normal existence. The placing of mixanthropes in remote places and times is a way of rendering them both possible and invisible: there was a need to imagine them in existence somewhere, but rarely could they be brought into line with the common experience of reality.

3So the depiction of a mixanthrope is not straightforward representation of something which the artist actually saw. Rather, it has a strong component of creation, of invention, even if one takes into account artistic copying and the following of convention. A mixanthrope does not indubitably exist until it has been depicted; depiction is a bringing into existence rather than a simple reflec­tion of something that already exists. The mixanthrope is the product of this creative process; thus, in this area, depiction is of more than usual importance.

4Moreover, as will be discussed, it is not always even the case that in depicting a mixanthrope an artist is necessarily depicting a being which is imagined to exist in that form. Sometimes the gulf between representation and imagined reality is even wider, with the mixanthropic form having a symbolic rather than a mimetic purpose. What the symbolic purpose of a mixanthrope might be will be explored in the ensuing chapter.

5The functional importance of the act of representation is illustrated by returning to the observations which arose from the earlier examination of mixanthropic imagery to be found in Arkadian cults. Above all, it was argued that Arkadian mixanthropic deities were:

  • Rare

  • Obscure and/or marginal

  • Unique images, ‘one-offs’

  • 2 Even if we regard her mare-headed xoanon as more idea than reality, the potency of the idea within (...)

6This last point is particularly striking. What Arkadia offers is some unique mixanthropic depictions of deities who – for all their animal associations – are not elsewhere shown in such a form. Of this type are Demeter Melaina2 and the fish-tailed Eurynome, both of them mired in rumour and invisibility. By contrast, the mixanthropes brought to light by archaeology, which can be seen and admired as real, are typically not deities at all but decorative adjuncts like the animal-headed figures on the Lykosoura veil. As has been said, this does not marry easily with the common belief that Arkadia was a cache of mixanthropic deities.

7However, there were other places in which images of mixanthropic gods did not have this unique, this ‘one-off’ quality. Attic cults, for example, fulfil much more closely what we imagine Arkadia will provide. In numerous rural shrines have been found cult-images of gods with unabashed mixanthropy, Pan and Acheloos being the most prominent examples, though Kekrops also deserves mention; his image was incorporated into the cult setting of the acropolis, central to Athenian religious life. In contrast to the Arkadian evidence, we may see that in Attica there was no reticence about depicting certain deities as mixanthropes, about depicting them repeatedly as such, or about locating their images prominently in sacred spaces (though it is noteworthy that they tend to be portrayed in relief-form rather than in the round; this will be discussed later). If we are looking for manifest, overtly mixanthropic deities, Attica provides them far more satisfactorily than does Arkadia.

8There is also another region within the Greek world where mixanthropic deities cluster: Magna Graecia. In this area we find the densest concentration of river-god depictions, a good proportion of them identifiable as Acheloos. Cults of the Sirens were focused on this region (see above in Chapter 1), though unfortunately we have no cult image from their shrines, and cannot be sure whether any existed. We also, in this area, find a general abundance of mixanthropic and fantastical imagery, on coins, on vases, and in architecture (for example the many antefixes in the form of Acheloos-masks, satyr-masks and gorgoneia). In this region, as in Attica, there are strong and consistent conventions of depiction. There are clear river-god types (chiefly either man-faced bull or man with horns and bull-ears) and repetitive depiction. Once again, this is quite different from the situation in Arkadia and that region’s unique and aberrational divine forms.

9If we isolate the fundamental difference between the situation in Arkadia and that prevailing in these other regions with regard to mixanthropy, we learn much about how mixanthropy should be interpreted and read. Essentially, what distinguishes the Arkadian mixanthropic deities from those of the other regions mentioned is that their visual representation is so limited. Those deities who have an established mixanthropic form all have one thing in common: some process has been in place in their development by which their form has been established, canonised and fixed. There are three factors which can contribute, singly or in combination, to such a process.

  • 3 D’Alessio (2004), 25-7; Isler 1970, 76.
  • 4 Childs (2003), 54: he rightly questions the existence of any substantial connection between Acheloo (...)
  • 5 For discussion of the continued expression of Greek-Libyan territorial connections, and the rôle th (...)
  • 6 For the dates and context of the so-called ‘Orientalizing revolution’ in Greek culture (taking plac (...)

10One is the adoption into Greek usage of a mixanthropic image already formed in another, usually Eastern, culture. It is generally accepted that this factor was in place in the case of Acheloos: his physical composition was clearly at some stage, and by some route, derived from such images as the great man-faced bulls that guarded Neo-Assyrian palaces in Mesopotamia.3 Once in use in Greek contexts his image is adapted, of course; but the great prevalence of the Mannstier type in his representation clearly owes much to its pre-formation in the East.4 This is also the case to some extent with horned Ammon, though that god was much more explicitly an Eastern import whose chief cult centre remained the Libyan oracle at Siwah.5 As has been shown in the previous chapter, it is not that the Arkadians were simply cut off from the rest of the world. But the chief factor behind mobility, mercenary work, only really took off in the fifth century, by which time one of the significant periods of Oriental influence on Greek culture was already over.6 Early and consistent sea-trade can certainly not be imagined as having happened to and from Arkadia. In any case – and this is the most cogent point – Arkadia appears to have been uninterested in adopting mixanthropes from abroad. It is the indigenous quality of figures like Pan that gives them their symbolic power for the Arkadians of the fourth century especially.

  • 7 See Boardman (1997) for the major trends in Pan’s depiction. In his 1992 study of Pan’s early Arkad (...)

11The second factor which contributed to the establishment of a mixanthropic type was its repeated depiction in art, especially in painted pottery, which delighted in Mischwesen and which can be seen as normally at some remove from cult practices. One can discern the Athenian Pan-form being re-used, refined and perfected on the vases of the Athenian painters, and this process probably fed back into cult imagery.7 Of course art exercised greater flexibility than did cult representation, which tended far more to take a developed image and stick with it (witness for example the striking preservation of a certain physical type in the Attic cults of Acheloos), but for that image to be developed in the first place a process of repetition outside cult is very important. This is not to say that such repetition guarantees or even encourages the conferral of divine honours: the huge majority of the mixanthropes on Korinthian and Athenian pottery did not have cults of their own, and were instead considered members of the canon of monsters. The centaur Cheiron receives considerable attention from vase-painters, but in his various cult sites not a single statue or other religious image has been discovered. But for the mixanthropes whose cult representation was frequent, as I have said, the process of artistic repetition clearly tended to play an important rôle. And this process, this mechanism, was not in place in Arkadia to anything like the extent it was in Athens.

  • 8 See e.g. the red-figured Attic krater on which a small, plump Pan dances before a piping satyr (dat (...)
  • 9 I borrow Lévi-Strauss’s famous phrase. For a discussion of its repeated use, see Lloyd (1983), 8, n (...)

12It must be said that even if Arkadia had had a flourishing pottery-industry on a par with Athens, it is very unlikely that such figures as Demeter Melaina would have featured much on the resulting wares. Certain mixanthropic forms achieved artistic repetition because they had some appealing quality. Pan, for example, lends himself to imaginative and playful depictions, and his goat element is intimately connected with his light-heartedness.8 Since it is hard to visualise a mixanthrope as inherently beautiful, scholars have tended to regard those frequently depicted as ‘good to think with.’9 This leads me to the third factor that seems significant in fixing a mixanthropic image.

13In the cases where the image is established and canonised, one can discern, without any fanciful interpretation, a clear association between the animal components of the form and a prominent aspect of the god’s divine personality. This is undeniably the case with Pan. Though more recent scholarship has destroyed the notion that he was the patron god of shepherds, worshipped only by simple herdsmen who saw in him a paradigm for their way of life and their concerns, he certainly continued to be associated in thought at least with animal herding and the rural chôra. As importantly, perhaps, his character tallied significantly with the perceived character of the animal whose parts he incorporated, the goat. Both things ensured that his mixanthropy remained relevant to his persona and important for its expression. Similarly, in the case of Acheloos, horns, bulls, water and natural abundance form a cluster of meaning which makes their combination expressive and valuable. The snake-mixanthropy of Athenian Kekrops was argued to be a visual expression of his vital symbolic rôles as autochthôn and mediator. In such cases the contribution of the animal part is clearly discernible and important. That in all three instances Athens and Attica supply the bulk of the surviving imagery is by no means coincidental. Not only was Athens simply producing more art than other regions, she also seems to have given mixanthropes – Pan and Kekrops especially – positions of great significance within the processes of mythological self-definition.

14No such clear connection between divine persona and animal persona is in evidence in most of the Arkadian cases discussed. Eurynome’s fish tail and Oceanid identity suggest sea-associations which seem anomalous in a part of Greece so thoroughly embedded in the interior, far from any coast. Demeter Melaina’s horse element is clearly key to her nature and various theories may be – and have been – advanced as to its significance (see Chapter 2), but it fails to provide a clear opportunity for characterisation. It is easy to see why such cases did not appeal to the desire to unite form and personality which undoubtedly existed in Greek religion. Moreover, special problems are presented when a deity familiar by name at least on a pan-Hellenic level, such as Demeter or Artemis, crops up in a form so out of keeping with the usual iconographic trends. No wonder Pausanias was unwilling to allow Artemis, the fair maiden huntress, to be conflated with the mermaid of Arkadia. Conversely, in the culture of Athens, both Pan and Acheloos easily found places among cave-dwelling nature deities, in company with the nymphs, and in this divine company their animal elements, and the associations with the forces of the natural world which those elements conveyed, were quite unproblematic.

15So the deities whose mixanthropic form we tend to take for granted have for the most part been subject to at least one of these three factors (the adoption of a ready-made non-Greek form; repeated depiction of the image in art, especially vase-painting; the presence of a functional and sustained connection between the mixanthropy of the entity and its character); and this has worked to establish their mixanthropic form as a permanent part of their representation. By contrast, most of the Arkadian examples of mixanthropic imagery are not Eastern imports; they are ‘one-offs’, peculiarities never taken up in a wider artistic context; the link between animal component and character is not clearly defined. The great exception to much of this is of course Pan, Arkadia’s most successful export, and he acts as a valuable contrast with cases such as Demeter Melaina and Eurynome; but in any case, just how Arkadian his mythical characterisation really is is of course debatable.

  • 10 Forbes Irving (1990), 41.

16These observations should lead us, I believe, to ask questions about what, in its earlier forms, the representation of a deity as mixanthrope really signified. In past scholarship, there has been a tendency to regard animal features in deities as fixed and immutable, and, as a reflection of this, these elements have often been turned into pseudo-epikleseis with no ancient linguistic basis. For example, in discussing the taurine features which occasionally appear in the iconography of Dionysos, Jane Harrison talks without reservation about ‘Dionysos the Bull-god and Pan the Goat-god’ as if at an earlier stage this was the true, the definite, form (later lost) of each god. We can see from our observations thus far, however, that to perceive a deity’s animal form as an inherently fixed thing is mistaken. Without doubt, certain gods were portrayed with certain animal attributes at certain times and in certain circumstances, but the resulting objects should not lead us to suppose that they were viewed as always possessing those features. Even if at one stage Demeter Melaina was depicted as having the head of a mare, this does not entitle us to refer to the goddess of Phigalia as Demeter the Mare-goddess, or even mare-headed Demeter. Her mare-headed form, the fish-tail of Eurynome, must have expressed an aspect of the deity’s nature relevant to the context of the local cult; that is really the most we can say. As Forbes Irving has remarked, the relationship between a deity and an associated animal ‘is a complex one, somewhere between metaphor or symbol and identification.’10 This is the case when a mixanthropic depiction is created. Then, as we have seen, other processes, most importantly artistic re-use and repetition, can turn the highly specific into the more general, the highly local into the more universal. A single symbolic representation can become a set type, Pan the goat-faced, goat-legged god, or Cheiron the divine centaur of Thessaly.

17However, I would argue that that is not the end of the matter. The importance of artistic repetition derives from more than the fact that a mixanthropic cult image originally depicts highly specific and fleeting animal associations. It is the contention of this book that mixanthropic forms are by their essential nature highly impermanent and fluid. This is, as has been said, largely because in their earliest states they are not simply mimetic; they are an attempt to capture an idea or phenomenon which is itself highly elusive and fluctuating. As will now be argued, the fundamental purpose of a mixanthropic image is to represent metamorphosis


1 Phleg. peri Thaum. 35.

2 Even if we regard her mare-headed xoanon as more idea than reality, the potency of the idea within her cult entitles it to rank among actual images in terms of symbolic significance, as has been argued.

3 D’Alessio (2004), 25-7; Isler 1970, 76.

4 Childs (2003), 54: he rightly questions the existence of any substantial connection between Acheloos and his Near Eastern models on the level of character and mythological significance.

5 For discussion of the continued expression of Greek-Libyan territorial connections, and the rôle therein of Ammon’s oracle, see Malkin (1994), esp. 158: ‘… the Greeks interested in Libya saw Zeus Ammon as its tutelary deity. Both Sparta and Cyrene viewed colonisation there as arrival in the precinct (temenos) of Zeus Ammon, and in time Cyrenaica was in fact delineated by his sanctuaries.’

6 For the dates and context of the so-called ‘Orientalizing revolution’ in Greek culture (taking place c. 750-650 BC), see Burkert (1992), 9-25.

7 See Boardman (1997) for the major trends in Pan’s depiction. In his 1992 study of Pan’s early Arkadian iconography, Hübinger argues not merely that the Athenian treatment of Pan’s image was influential on his Arkadian visual persona, but that it was in Athens, not Arkadia, that the canonical mixanthropic Pan was created; Arkadia, along with countless other regions, then took it on. This is of the greatest possible significance to the present discussion. Arkadia provided the deity, but Athens provided a consistent means of representing him.

8 See e.g. the red-figured Attic krater on which a small, plump Pan dances before a piping satyr (dated c. 400 BC; Lecce, Museo Provinciale 773). Ancient humour is of course hard to judge securely, but here Pan’s wild flinging out of legs can hardly have been viewed without a smile. See Boardman (1997), 28-9.

9 I borrow Lévi-Strauss’s famous phrase. For a discussion of its repeated use, see Lloyd (1983), 8, n.7.

10 Forbes Irving (1990), 41.

© Presses universitaires de Liège, 2011

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